Local Olympian: Palo Verde grad hopes to honor late father with medal win in Tokyo

Local Sports

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — In 2021, we are Las Vegas — Swim City — but this took time. 

In 2016, Erica Sullivan finished 12th at the Olympic Trials, falling short of a spot in the Olympics and on the national team.

Her hopes tumbled. Her attitude toughened.

Erica Sullivan was not to be denied again.

OMAHA, NEBRASKA – JUNE 18: Erica Sullivan of the United States competes in a preliminary heat for the Women’s 800m freestyle during Day Six of the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials at CHI Health Center on June 18, 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Gaining strength with every stroke, the Palo Verde grad became a leader for the Sandpipers of Nevada Swim Club. 

Even when the pandemic closed the city pools, it didn’t’ pause her progress. She just led laps on Lake Mead.

“That hard work is kind of expected,” said Sullivan. “It’s not above and beyond. That’s the standard.”

It took 5 years of fortitude and focus, but Sullivan swam her way to sweet redemption and a personal best time at the 2021 trials.

“It’s weird when your dreams become a reality. I think we are definitely learning how to cope with that to say the least,” Sullivan said. “It’s a lot of emotions: sometimes it’s shocking, sometimes it’s overwhelming. Sometimes it’s humbling.”

And sometimes it hurts.

Sullivan’s swimming inspiration is her dad.

He died in 2017.

It crushed her, but it also created a fighter.

And don’t worry, she took their dream to the finish line.

“I made the team on Wednesday night. Father’s Day was Sunday. I had a breakdown,” Sullivan said. “I cried for a really long time on Sunday. Because he did die 4 weeks before I made the U.S. National team — right before.  The fact that he couldn’t see that I was at that elite level, but to know that if he was there he would have been rooting for me, literally means the world.”

Now, the 20-year-old has a chance to be the most successful female swimmer in Las Vegas history, and the woman who is half Japanese can bring fame to her family in Tokyo.

“But I definitely want more. I’m not going to settle,” Sullivan said. “I’m going to try my best and go for a medal.”

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