Virginia Tech's Erika Hajnal of Budapest, Hungary, a sophomore majoring in wildlife sciences in the College of Natural Resources, has been breaking women's swimming records since a full athletic scholarship brought her to campus in January 2009.

Excelling in the individual medley, butterfly, and distance freestyles, Hajnal -- who has represented her native country in multiple international competitions -- has given the women H2Okies swim team a shot in the arm.

Hajnal’s drive and dedication in the pool extends to her academics as well. Her love of animals led her to the wildlife sciences program in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources.

“My dream is to study whales and other marine mammals in Antarctica.” She says she looks forward to taking advanced classes in biology and mammalogy in her junior and senior years. “Erika is a focused, hard-working wildlife student in addition to excelling in her athletic endeavors,” observed fisheries and wildlife sciences associate professor Sarah Karpanty. “I find her to be a true student-athlete, excelling on ‘the field’ as well as working hard in the classroom to prepare for a future career.”

Meanwhile, two semesters into her transition to a new school, a new team, and a new country, the budding wildlife biologist already holds the university’s records for 500-, 1,000-, and 1,650-yard free and 400-individual medley (IM), as well as for the Virginia Tech War Memorial Pool’s 500- and 1,000-free, and 400-IM.

She qualified for the National Collegiate Association Championship and was part of the 800-free relay team that set a new Virginia Tech record. Hajnal was recently named ACC Women’s Swimming and Diving Performer of the Week and Rookie of the Year after posting a pair of top-two finishes during the ACC Championship. The first-ever Virginia Tech distance swimmer to earn All-American honors, she now says she has her sights set on breaking Virginia Tech’s 200-free and 200-fly records and qualifying for the next Olympics.

In 2008, Hajnal won the 10K World Cup in Mexico, a two-hour open-water event. A few months later, she competed in a pre-Olympic open-water 10K in Beijing, but missed qualifying for the Olympics by 10 seconds. “After swimming for that long, missing by 10 seconds is very frustrating,” she explained, “but I’m already training to represent Hungary in the next Olympics.”

Hajnal credits her coaches, Ned Skinner and Braden Holloway, for her record-breaking swimming, and says she values the bond she has with the H2Okies. “We train three or four hours a day together, support each other, and trust each other,” she remarked. That closeness, she says, helps her cope with being separated from friends and relatives in Hungary. “My team is my second family now,” Hajnal added. The strong bond she has with her coaches and teammates resonates in her swimming and is a large part of why she has become an even better swimmer since she arrived in Blacksburg. “I am stronger, my turns are better, and my finish is my secret weapon, but this is all just a part of my growth,” Hajnal explained.

Despite the miles that separate her from her loved ones, Hajnal said she feels comfortable with her move to Blacksburg: “The most important thing is that mentally I’m absolutely fine here. I love my wildlife major, I love swimming, I love working with this team and these coaches, and I think I made the best decision of my life by coming to Virginia Tech.”

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