Swimming: Erica Rose speech on Jerry Holtrey

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Former Hawken state champion and open water world champion Erica Rose's speech from retiring coach Jerry Holtrey's tribute reception Feb. 1.


  • I received a phone call a few weeks ago from Andrea in the development office, asking if I would be willing to speak about Jerry at this event. She explained that the organizing committee was hoping to have a speaker from each decade of Jerrys career and they wondered if I would be willing to say a few words on behalf of my peers. I was definitely honored and excited, but also pretty nervous. My first thought was, How can I possibly put into words what Jerry has meant to me, let alone to an entire decade of other swimmers? This is not going to be easy.

    My next thought was, Well, of course its not going to be easy. Nothing Ive ever done for Jerry Holtrey has been easy, so why should this be any exception? So even if I cant perfectly articulate what this man has meant to me or to so many of you sitting in this room, Im going to give it a try. I thought Id do that by talking a little bit about my career with Jerry and then sharing with you a few of the lessons Ive learned from him that I think will probably resonate with many of you as well.

    My first swim lesson with Jerry was in 1987. I was five years old, in kindergarten here at Hawken, and Jerry got into the pool with me during PE class. He was probably hoping I wouldnt remember that moment, but I can actually still picture him in his trunks in the shallow end of the lower school pool. Then a few years went by there was age group swimming with LESD, middle school swimming for Hawken, high school swimming for Hawken, visits home from Chicago where I was swimming in college for Northwestern, and then even a few years after that, visits home when I was swimming professionally with the National Team. My last workout here with Jerry on deck coaching was in the fall of 2011, when I was home visiting and training for a marathon swim around Manhattan. Jerry coached me for over 24 years.

    So, with that said, I hope you know that I am speaking from experience-and from my heart- when I share with you a few of my favorite lessons.

    Dont ever miss an opportunity to risk being great. Im not sure whether Jerry actually said that to me at one point or whether its just the first thing that comes to mind when I think about what he taught me, but its definitely a lesson I learned while swimming for him. A perfect example is the first open water swim I ever did its a story Jerry likes to tell as well. It was back in 1996, and we were at summer Nationals in Ft. Lauderdale. We heard an announcement about a 5K ocean swim that was taking place the day after the meet. Our flight wasnt until that afternoon, so Jerry asked if anyone wanted to do it. I was apparently the craziest of the bunch and said I would give it a try. So the next morning, Jerry walked with me to the start, telling me stories about how he used to swim in lakes and quarries when he was growing up he was really excited for me to try open water swimming! The gun went off, I started swimming, and Jerry ran up the beach to get breakfast at McDonalds. He managed to make it back in time to congratulate me at the finish in fact, he told me he had been watching the whole swim. It wasnt until years later that I found out where he really was during that race. The point of the story, though, is that by seizing that opportunity, I unknowingly launched what would become a 15-year open water swimming career. Very early on, Jerry taught me to never miss an opportunity to risk doing something truly great.

  • You dont need good luck when you have good preparation. That is actually something Jerry said to me many times, in fact, throughout the course of my career. Almost every time I would leave town to head to a race, he would shake my hand and say, I would wish you good luck, but you dont need it. You have good preparation. One specific example stands out to me. Christmas training in 1997 was the most ridiculously challenging training I can ever remember. We did some of the classic Jerry Holtrey sets things like 2 x 5,000 for time in the morning followed by 10 x 1,000 11:00 in the afternoon. The next day, we did 50 x 100 1:03 in the morning, followed by 10 x 400 IM in the afternoon - just to mix up the strokes a little bit, according to Jerry. I remember that particular week because it was right before I was leaving for my first World Championships and I was getting nervous. One afternoon toward the end of the week, I wasnt swimming particularly well and the fatigue and nerves got the best of me. I broke down and got out of the pool, crying. That didnt happen too often, so I think Jerry and Rick were pretty surprised. I told Jerry that I just wasnt sure I could do it I wasnt sure I wanted to go to Worlds anymore. Jerry put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and told me that he couldnt guarantee how the race would end. What he could guarantee, though, was that I would be better trained and better prepared than any other girl in the world for the 5K race. Two weeks later, on January 7, 1998, I won the gold medal in the 5K at the World Championships. It had nothing to do with luck. Jerry had prepared me well, in body and in spirit. If it doesnt kill you, it will make you stronger. Im not sure that lesson even needs any explanation. I think everyone in this room probably understands what I mean. As I was thinking through examples of how I learned this lesson from Jerry, so many people and moments and challenges came to mind.

    I thought about the spring break in high school when David Krahe, Jimmy Pullin and I did an 8,000 IM in the Hawken Lower School pool by ourselves with no lane lines.

    I thought about driving through a blizzard with Anna Strohl so that we could swim at a health

    club downtown because we were so afraid of missing a workout when Hawken had a snow day and Jerry was forced to cancel practice.

    I thought about the Friday afternoon we did 8 x 100 from a dive and Jerry gave us all a specific

    time to reach. Emily Seidman was having a tough day and wasnt hitting the goals and she had to stay there well after practice had ended, while the rest of us were dry and changed and on our way to dinner.

    I thought about getting lapped by Sean Justice during a set of 6 x 1500 at Beachwood pool. At

    6am. With no clocks. In the foggy, freezing cold weather. While Jerry was on deck in a parka.

    I thought about the routine we all kept throughout high school waking up at 5:00 a.m. to get to morning practice, hurrying out of the locker room and eating breakfast in the car so that we could get to class on time. Then racing (Im kidding there was never any speeding we were all very careful drivers) back to the lower school for afternoon practice and somehow mustering up the energy to study at night. And doing that day after day not just during the swim season.

  • I could list examples all day long and if I asked everyone in this room, you would each have a different story to tell. What matters, though, is that through those experiences we learned to battle adversity, we developed persistence, we practiced determination and we became stronger. When we graduated, we went to Yale, Columbia, Stanford, Northwestern, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan, Miami of Ohio some of the top academic and athletic institutions in the nation. We have careers and families and we understand the time management, discipline and focus it requires to succeed in our selected fields while also having balance in our lives. To this day, when I face a challenge Im not sure I can overcome, I think about what I learned from Jerry and from all of you and I remind myself that I we spent years developing an unbelievable amount of inner strength. This newsletter is dedicated to those who have come to realize that swimming is a way of life. Some of you will recognize that quote. It was at the top of every LESD newsletter we ever received and its one that always resonated deeply with me. Throughout his career, Jerry taught each and every one of us the importance of practicing like a champion, racing like a champion and living like a champion. He helped us realize that we were choosing swimming as a way of life but also developing as young people who would eventually go out into the world to do incredible things in other areas. Jerry taught us the value of setting realistic yet challenging goals. At the beginning of every season, he used to pull us out of the water, one by one, to talk through our goals for the year. And while those goals were important, Jerry also knew that we had other activities to balance with swimming. He talked about time management and reminded us that Hawken academics should always come first. We needed to find a way to get our homework done and then get to sleep on time so that we could train well during swim practice. Jerry values family his own, of course, and also each of ours. He recognized the sacrifices our parents were making in order to give us the opportunity to swim and he routinely reminded us to thank our parents every opportunity we could to be gracious, and to be respectful. Jerry also taught us to be humble and to represent ourselves, our families, our team, our school and our country with dignity and pride. Whether that meant waiting in the water for everyone in the heat to finish, dressing up to go to the airport together as a team, shaking the hand of a competitor after a race or coming together for a thank-you cheer at the end of a dual meet, Jerry made sure to teach us not only to be great athletes, but more importantly, to be good people. As I look around this room, Im proud to be among so many good people who were coached and raised by Jerry Holtrey. Jerry, as I said when I first came up here, putting into words what youve meant to me and to us is not easy. Your career has touched each and every one of us and so, on behalf of us all, THANK YOU.