Erin Hurley retires after 28 years and 41 Midwest Conference titles


Evan Hein

In her time as head swimming and diving coach, Erin Hurley has earned the title of Midwest Conference Coach of the Year 23 times. She was also awarded the College Swimming Association of America’s Richard E. Steadman Award, which is given to the coach who spreads the most happiness.

Cadence Chen, Staff Writer

After 28 dynamic seasons, Erin Hurley is retiring as head coach of the Grinnell College men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams.

Hurley is leaving her position with wins from both the men’s and women’s teams at the Midwest Conference (MWC) championships, which were hosted in the Russell K. Osgood Pool and Natatorium. The men’s and women’s teams have won 19 out of the last 21 and 22 out of the last 24 Midwest Conference titles respectively.

Though it was “back-and-forth,” according to Hurley, between the women’s team and the Lake Forest- ers, Grinnell ultimately came out on top. The teams also recently found out that Sean Colson `26 of the men’s team will be competing at the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Division III National Swimming and Diving Championships. Colson was also named MWC Men’s Outstanding Swimmer.

Winning it was kind of for her.

— Genevieve Martinez `24

As it was Hurley’s final season, Genevieve Martinez `24, on the women’s team, said, “Winning it was kind of for her.”

During a toast given on the last day of this year’s MWC Championships, Callie Eyman-Vavroch `14, assistant swimming and diving coach, said that Hurley made a joke that Eyman-Vavroch “has never left” the team since worrying about returning after a shoulder injury in her first year at Grinnell.

Erin Hurley will retire on a high
note after both the men’s and wom- en’s swimming and diving teams earned yet another Midwest Conference title. (Contributed by Ted Schultz)

Eyman-Vavroch first met Hurley in 2009 when she was visiting the College as a prospective student. She said that Hurley works “magic” in her office.

She also said that she knows of many past and current team members who share a similar story as her, where they were unsure of whether they wanted to swim but left Hur- ley’s office with a new desire to stay.

Hurley has been swimming all her life. At four years old, her parents were adamant about having her swim. Swimming began as a recreational activity. She said that she found some success, which was part of the reason why she enjoyed it. Thanks to her involvement on collegiate-level swim teams, her undergraduate education at the University of Nebraska and graduate education at the University of Iowa was paid for.

In 1993, she had taken a coaching position at Illinois Wesleyan University, but she said it was too far east for her. After applying for a couple of other positions, she joined Grinnell College as the head swimming and diving coach in 1995.

As to why she decided to go into coaching, she simply said, “I felt like I had something to say.”

Earlier in her career as a coach, Hurley said she had experienced some gender bias. Her previous assistant coaches tended to be men. At conferences, coaches on other teams would speak directly to the male coaches rather than to her.

At the beginning, Hurley said she was more interested in winning and records than she is today. Her coaching approach has since evolved. She describes herself as “more holistic and more compassionate.”

During her tenure, and prior to the most recent championship, Hurley has coached 264 conference champions, 23 MWC Swimmers of the Year and 21 All-Americans, as well as a national champion. This year, she has collected the MWC Coach of the Year for both the men’s and women’s teams. In 2016, she won the College Swimming Coaches Association of Amer- ica’s Richard E. Steadman Award, which is awarded to the coach who spreads the most happiness.

When you text, she texts back.

— Enrique Valero Ying `23

Martinez and Enrique Valero Ying `23, a member of the men’s team, both said that Hurley does not act like a “stereotypical coach,” where a coach expresses aggressive and hard-headed behaviors. They spoke to her goofy and positive demeanor when she is on the pool deck with a stopwatch and a big smile.

Hurley said she hopes to instill confidence in her students and make swimming an experience that ends in tears of joy.

Because swimming is both an individual and team sport, Martinez said that the athletes can find themselves being their own worst critics. She said that Hurley knows that her students have lofty goals and are hard on themselves, but Hurley will not be disappointed in them. It was with this coaching philosophy that Martinez said she was able to make some of her best times in this year’s MWC after a COVID disruption in her first year and a knee injury in her second.

“9 times out of 10, they go out there, and surprise themselves and swim better than they thought they would,” said Eyman-Vavroch.

Martinez said that Hurley tells the members to practice the “five-minute rule.” Everyone has five minutes to “feel how you’re going to feel” after a race. After these five minutes, members will rejoin the team atmosphere. Martinez said she has applied this practice beyond swimming.

She kills us with kindness.

— Genevieve Martinez `24

Eyman-Vavroch, Martinez and Ying said they have observed that Hurley tries to form a personal connection with everyone. In his fourth year on the team, Ying said that he felt that his third year would be his peak. Hurley, however, would tell him that she did not care about the times and suggested that he take it day-by-day.

Though he said that he wanted to keep it professional with Hurley in his first few years, he now considers Hurley one of his “best friends.”

“When you text, she texts back,” Ying said. Hurley said that she considers herself the beneficiary of the teams, referring to her students as gifts. “Everybody has value, and sometimes it’s not really clear or visible what that gift might be,” Hurley said. “But, it becomes very evident as the relationship develops.”

At the end of practices, Martinez said that Hurley makes sure every player gives her an elbow bump regardless of how well that practice went. Martinez said, “She kills us with kindness.”

According to Ying, during previous toasts after the MWC, Hurley would congratulate the team on their successes. In this final toast as head coach, he said that Hurley thanked everyone.

I‘ve gone through all these years, and now I’m back to it as a beautiful experience, to be at one with the water and how the water can bring people together.

— Erin Hurley, head swimming and diving coach

“It was serenity,” Ying said. Hurley said that she feels her experience with swimming has come “full circle.”

“I’ve gone through all these years, and now I’m back to it as a beautiful experience, to be at one with the water and how the water can bring people together,” she said.

Hurley will continue to be at the College with a full-time faculty position. She will help with academic administration in the physical education department, teach the first-year tutorial class and train the new head coach for swim and dive. She said that the new coach will be identified by May of this year. She will use her extra free time to spend time with her nieces, nephews and dog.