She began competing in swimming at age 6 and, by the time she had graduated high school, college coaches had taken notice. At one point, she verbally committed to compete for the University of Milwaukee.
However, Erin Dolan Edminister looked toward southwest Missouri, to NCAA Division II Drury University.
“Drury was the only Division II school on my list to visit, as I was sure I wanted to be a ‘Division I athlete.’ My grandmother was a graduate of Drury, and my mom had heard about the amazing swim program so I promised I would give it a chance,” Edminister said. “When I walked onto the campus and met the coaches and team, I knew it was where I was supposed to be. When you know you know, and I knew.”
Edminister surged as one of Drury’s all-time bests, and it’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct her with the Class of 2023.
Edminister became a 16-time NCAA Division II swimming All-American and team captain for Drury and helped lead the Panthers to three national team championships (2009, 2010, 2011).
She was a three-time individual champion in the distance freestyle events and was a member of two 800 freestyle relay national titles. She was named Drury’s most valuable swimmer in 2012 while also meeting the converted qualifying U.S. Olympic Trial time in the 800-meter freestyle. She still holds Drury records in the 1,000-yard freestyle (9:53.33) and the 1,650-yard freestyle (16:33).
And can you say athlete? She later became the first Drury cross country runner to qualify for the D-II national meet, was named GLVC Track Athlete of the Year and qualified for the NCAA D-II Track & Field Indoor & Outdoor Championships.
Oh, and after graduation, Edminister competed for the U.S. National Triathlon Team from 2013 to 2018 and was ranked as high as 34th in the world on the international professional circuit.
Not that Edminister arrived at Drury assuming she would make a huge mark.
“I never imagined winning the NCAA’s or making the time drops I did when I got to college,” Edminister said.
Her story is all about hard work.
As a freshman, as the only female distance swimmer in the program, Edminister trained with the guys and wore paddles to enhance her strength. Plus, the schedule featured many big Division I opponents.
Drury assistant Jason Owen became a mentor.
“He was there for me as an athlete and a person, but also was really good at running that line of knowing how hard to push me and when to give me a break,” Edminister said.
Her breakthrough was winning the national title as a freshman in the 1,650-yard freestyle.
“I was in Lane 1 and was an outside smoke, so to say,” Edminister said, referring to a term about swimmers in outside lanes who aren’t expected to have much of a chance. “It was the last race my grandpa got to see before he passed away and that was really special.”
“I wanted to win that race because the team scoring was extremely tight, and I wanted to make sure I could get the team all the points they needed,” Edminister said.
Growing up her, mother and her grandfather shuttled her to practices, training camps and meets. Mentors included Pat Rowen and Kyle Hunt. Additionally, the Widman Family, Neil Chanter and the Springfield Brewing Company Cycling Team formerly known as Sub4 (now known as SBC Athletics) had looked out for her.
After four years swimming for Drury, Edminister tried cross country, thanks to an NCAA rule allowing a fifth year of eligibility for athletes switching sports.
Already having been a multi-sport athlete at Southeast High School in Lincoln, Neb., Edminister told Drury’s coach she had been running marathons. And when asked for her times, Edminister found herself an instant prospect.
“The cross country coach immediately called me and offered me a full-ride scholarship to graduate school,” Edminister said, “so I applied to Drury’s accelerated master’s program and decided to give it a go. Honestly, it was just luck.”
These days, Edminister is still surprised about the career she carved out.
“After college I went from racing for my school to my country, which was quite a big shift,” Edminister said. “It obviously got much harder, but I think the confidence my coaches continued to have in me really helped me continue to thrive. I hope someday my girls and soon-to-be son can have the same confidence in themselves.”