They asked, Erin Birney was happy to oblige.
Birney, a senior at Little Flower High School, played only one sport for most of her high school career. She was a softball player, and she worked very hard at that sport.
But earlier this year, she had friends on the swimming team and they tried to talk her into going out for the Sentinels.
“I love trying new things, so I decided to try it,” said Birney, who lives in Pennypack. “I’ve always liked swimming, and I work at the Pennypack Swim Club, so I knew I loved it, but I didn’t expect swimming competitively to be so hard.”
Birney didn’t get off to a flying start, but with a little time and a lot of effort, she was able to go from a novice to a key contributor in short order.
When she first got in the pool in December, she finished the 50-meter freestyle race in 36 seconds. But the end of the season, she had shaved five seconds from her time.
“It was really cool, but I was nervous at the start,” Birney said. “I was really nervous, especially at districts, I never swam in front of that many people, in the spotlight like that.”
Birney specialized in the fly during the season, and she also competed on the relay teams.
Birney did have a lot of success in the pool and became a top swimmer in a hurry. But she’s not so quick to take the credit. That, she gives out to her teammates and her coach.
“I was nervous when I first started, even at practice, but everyone helped me and helped me get better,” Birney said. “And coach (Sean Clothier) really helped me. When the season started, he was very helpful, he gave me time to get better and by the end of the year, he was pushing me very hard. That gave me confidence.”
Like his swimmer, Clothier doesn’t accept any of the credit. He gives it all to Birney.
“Erin’s accomplishments, in just one year of competitive swimming, are incredible. Her progress and improvements are a testament to her focus, internal strength and desire to be the best version of herself.
“She went from someone I was teaching to someone who, not only could complete a practice, but was someone I had to keep raising the bar for, in terms of expectations, because she kept smashing past any goal we were striving for. Erin went from swimming the unofficial (non-point scoring, time only) races, to swimming in official races and scoring points for us, to attaining a key spot on our relay teams as the season progressed.”
Birney, who was a cheerleader and in gymnastics while she was growing up, is happy she joined the swim team because she enjoyed it, she enjoyed being around her friends and she was proud of her accomplishments.
But all the hard work she put in during the winter will pay dividends when she’s playing center field in softball.
“Swimming practice is really hard, especially when we’re doing (sprints),” Birney said. “You do a lot of laps and then you get rest depending on how fast you do. It’s really hard, but it gets you in great shape. It will help softball.
“Softball practice started last week. We haven’t been outside because of the weather. It’s hard practicing inside because you can’t break anything, but we’re getting workouts in. I’m happy to get started.”
Athletics are a big part of Birney’s life. But on top of the sports she’s competed in her whole life, her times, batting average and cheerleading scores are far from the most important numbers in Birney’s career.
She is the top-ranked member of her senior class, and on the strength of her 97 average and 4.14 grade point average, she will be the valedictorian of her senior class.
While she’s playing softball this spring, she’ll also have to work on a speech for graduation.
“I like writing them, but I get a little nervous giving them,” said Birney, who is in the National Honor Society, student government and Little Flower Ambassadors. “It’s a lot of work, I study a lot.”
Next year, she’ll take her study skills to the University of Pittsburgh, where she plans on majoring in Spanish and education.
“I’ve had Spanish all four years and I really like it,” Birney said. “And education, I help with tutoring and I like helping people.
“I went on a service trip to the Dominican Republic, and we worked at an orphanage for four days. We just played with the kids and helped entertain them. We played baseball and soccer. I really liked being there with them. I like helping people and helping kids the best.”
That explains why she enjoyed helping her swim team so much.
“I had some really good friends on the team who told me to come out and I’m really glad I did,” Birney said. “I wish I would have come out sooner. I didn’t know how much I’d like it, but I loved it. It was a great year.”