Three years ago, Erin Aldrich sat down with SMU track coach Dave Wollman and outlined her goals.
Looking back, Aldrich says making the U.S. Olympic high jump team seemed like a lofty goal for a 14-year-old high school freshman. But Wollman didn’t discourage her, and at 18, Aldrich is in contention to be the youngest athlete on the three-member 1996 Olympic High Jump Team.
Aldrich will compete against 24 athletes at the Olympic Trials June 14-23 in Atlanta. If her jumps are high enough, Aldrich, a senior at Lake Highlands High School, will qualify for the 1996 U.S. Olympics in Atlanta July 26-August 24.
Aldrich qualified to compete at the trials when she jumped a personal best of 6-feet, 2-inches at the recent UTA-Lamar Relays.
“My dream was to jump higher and higher and to qualify for the trials. I guess it’s not a dream anymore,” Aldrich says.
Aldrich attributes much of her success to coach Dee Anna Harris, who introduced her to the high jump at Lake Highlands Junior High School.
Aldrich jumped 5-feet, 6-inches during the Jesse Owens track competition, an almost-unheard-of height for a 13-year-old.
“We discovered I was pretty good at the high jump,” Aldrich says, “so we stuck to it.”
During an SMU track camp, Wollman noticed Aldrich’s potential and encouraged her to pursue her goal of making the Olympic team.
“I realized my sophomore year that the high jump might be my ticket,” Aldrich says.
Aldrich recently won the district competition in the long, triple and high jumps and will compete at the May 11 state meet. She won the high jump at the Texas Relays in Austin and will compete in the Mt. SAC National Invitational Track Meet in Walnut, Calif., later this month. The competition attracts some of the nation’s top athletes and is considered a pre-requisite for the Olympic trials.
Track isn’t the only sport in which Aldrich excels.
She led the high school volleyball team to a district championship and was named Most Athletic by the student body and All-Area Most Valuable Player by the Dallas Morning News. She was named one of Volleyball Magazine’s Fab 50 top high school volleyball players in the nation and was a member of the All-Tour of Texas Team and the Colorado Crossroads National Volleyball Team.
Harris says Aldrich typifies the athlete who sacrifices extra-curricular activities to succeed.
“For a kid to sacrifice and work like Erin is phenomenal,” Harris says. “It’s paid off though. If she gets her best jump in at the right time, she can win.”
Aldrich, an honor student, was recruited by dozens of universities, including Stanford, UCLA, Nebraska, Arkansas and Texas A&M.
Although she says her parents, John and Susan Aldrich, probably would have preferred Stanford, Aldrich will attend Arizona State on a full volleyball and track scholarship.
Aldrich says her decision was based upon the experience of Arizona track coach John Rembao, whose wife Sue is a former Olympian in the high jump and will be at the trials next month.
“I wanted to be coached by someone who knows what it takes to get to the Olympics,” Aldrich says.
Rembao told Aldrich she will have to jump 6-feet, 3-inches to make the three-person Olympic team.
Because 27 is the age at which athletes peak in the high jump, Aldrich is confident that she’ll have another chance to make the Olympic team if she misses the mark this year.
“I’m pretty positive, and I work well under pressure. But if it doesn’t happen, I know I have three more Olympics to try for,” Aldrich says.
“I’m pretty sure it will happen in one of those.”