At 4:20 a.m. every Monday and Friday, Ikenna Eruchalu isn’t always excited about getting up. But the Charlotte Latin junior knows the early morning workouts, which start at 5 a.m., for his SwimMAC Carolinas’ club team are necessary.
Eruchalu practices eight times a week, logging more than 20 hours in the pool before and after school.
“It’s pretty rough getting up that early and honestly sometimes I honestly want to roll over and go back to sleep,” Eruchalu said. “But, I know to keep up with my competition I have work harder, train harder, so I can be faster. That’s what motivates me.”
Eruchalu’s routine is nothing new. The 16-year-old has been competing for the SwimMAC team since he was 9 years old and swimming since he was 6. He started the sport because of his older brothers, Obi and Chuma, who also were on SwimMAC and Charlotte Latin teams.
It didn’t take Ikenna long to discover his passion, which is still what fuels his success, according to Latin swimming coach Patty Waldron, who has coached all three brothers in high school.
“I truly believe Ikenna loves swimming and everything that goes with it, and you have to spend the time he does in the pool,” said Waldron. “But what makes him even better is he is a student of his craft and he knows what it takes to get better and he is willing to put in the work. When you combine his athletic ability, his size (6-foot, 195 pounds) and his desire, you get a special swimmer that is really becoming the complete package.”
After a strong freshman season, Eruchalu had a breakout sophomore season, winning the CISAA conference championship in the 100 butterfly. He also placed second in the league in the 100 backstroke, before going on to win both the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke NCSIAA 3A state titles.
He also was a part of the 200 medley relay team – with teammates Jackson Dickey, James Hardy and Tyler D’Allaird – that all won a state title.
All of those contributions helped the Latin boys’ win their third straight state title.
“It felt great to be a part of helping our team win another state championship,” Eruchalu said. “We all push each other to be at our best. The individual championships are nice, but for me it’s all about the team and what we accomplish together.”
The core of last year’s state championship team – including seniors in Dickey, Hardy and Jack Ratterree, juniors, D’Allaird and Eruchalu, and sophomore Sam Mahoney – are back.
For a Latin boys’ team that has a storied tradition with 12 state titles, a fourth consecutive title would be an historic accomplishment.
“We all want to win a championship every year, but it would be cool to help the seniors win their fourth,” Eruchalu said. “But we know it’s not going to be easy, especially having tied Cary Academy last year. We have to put in the work, so we can be at our best in February.”
Eruchalu has focused extensively on his underwater swimming. Waldron said “Ikenna is one of the best underwater swimmers she has seen.”
“Ikenna is an incredible underwater swimmer, so much so that he pushes the limit (15-meters) to how far you can go underwater and makes me nervous that he’s going to go too far,” Waldron said. “He really uses that to his advantage and often makes up ground underwater.”
Eruchalu says his progress also has a lot to do with his daily competition and work with his SwimMAC Carolinas’ teammates like Latin’s Mahoney, Marvin Ridge’s Jeffrey Murray, Providence’s Jack Edelson and South Mecklenburg’s Luke Johnson.
Eruchalu hopes all of his hard work will help him land a spot on a college team. He has received letters from East Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami, Ohio.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Ikenna will be a great college swimmer wherever he ends up wanting to go,” said Waldron. “He’s not only a great athlete, but a great competitor who goes about his business in a humble way, but also had a quiet confidence in himself.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.