September 24, 2004
Mary Ann Travis
Phone: (504) 865-5714
Like a fish in water, a student-athlete needs to be comfortable with competition. Just watch Tulane sophomore Linda McEachrane.
She swam in the 100-meter freestyle swimming event at the Olympics in August, representing her home country, Trinidad and Tobago.
She'll be back at Tulane this fall with other members of the second-year women's swimming and diving program, ready for more meets.
McEachrane is a selling point to recruit more swimmers, says Daniella Irle, head coach. The Olympics is the ultimate swimming meet, and having an Olympic swimmer on Tulane's team, "validates what we're doing here," Irle says.
"We're selling an attitude, a philosophy, a vision," says Irle. "I need to find 25 young women who want to be the very best they can be at everything they do."
Irle's goal is to fill the swimming roster with student-athletes who excel athletically and academically while keeping their heads on straight socially. Being a good role model is as important to Irle as good grades and good speed.
"I don't want great athletes who are average in the classroom. I'm not made that way. If you're going to do it, do it right." Irle says her program is "blue-collar."
She believes in balance and hard work. It's not easy competing in Division I-A, the highest NCAA competition level, where Tulane intercollegiate athletics teams match up with other teams in Conference USA. Irle respects student-athletes who take this hard road.
Few on the swimming team have full scholarships, while many have partial scholarships, and all practice 20 or more hours a week.
"But I can assure you that if a young lady finishes four years of eligibility in this program, she is ready for life."
McEachrane, a finalist in Pan Am, Caribbean, and Central American games, wrote Irle in 2002 about her interest in Tulane's fledgling swimming program. They got to know each other through correspondence and phone calls. Because of McEachrane's competition schedule and the distance from Trinidad to New Orleans, she did not visit Tulane before Irle made a scholarship offer.
McEachrane accepted, and then arrived at Tulane. "So Linda and I basically committed to each other, sight unseen," says Irle. "I've been in coaching 20 plus years. I trust my instincts. I liked her. When I talk to kids repeatedly and start to get to know them, I know. I know when it's trouble walking. I know when it's a sure thing."
Still, Irle was nervous when she met McEachrane's plane in July 2003. "I remember thinking, please let me like this kid." And she did. It's been a good fit for both, says Irle. As good a fit as a tight wetsuit. "Linda really does epitomize the program," says Irle. "A lot of things went right for her because she made good choices."
McEachrane struggled a little academically during her first semester at Tulane in fall 2003, especially with a course in U.S. history, a subject foreign to her. But by her second semester, she began to catch on that study groups and tutors could help. She did better academically, says Irle, and she adjusted to life as a college student, roommates and all.
Plus she trained rigorously under Irle's supervision. And she was named Conference USA freshman swimmer of the year. In Trinidad this summer, she qualified for the Olympic race. Then, in August, she marched into the Olympic stadium with the other athletes from Trinidad and Tobago.
"Man, what a rush!" McEachrane reported in postings from Athens on Tulane's athletics department website. "The opening ceremony was a real experience. Something never to forget!"
McEachrane raced in the second heat in the Olympic Aquatic Center on Aug. 18, coming in third with a time of 58.92 seconds. Sounds impressive for covering 100 meters in the water, but her time was 42nd best of the 50 swimmers in all the heats. She did not advance. But she swam in the Olympics.... "That's a boost to anybody," says Irle.
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