Wheeler Honored for Helping Save Richmond Program

April 09, 2018, 9:53 a.m. (ET)

Erin Wheeler is the third Richmond Spider to be named USA Synchro Collegiate Athlete of the Year.


Last month, Erin Wheeler of the University of Richmond was named the 2018 USA Synchro Collegiate Athlete of the Year, a remarkable achievement for an athlete competing at the club level. She became the third synchro Spider to earn the prestigious award after her current co-head coach Asha Bandal (2004) and Dana McLachlin (2014).

Even more remarkable? Four years ago, Wheeler was the only member of the team.

“The program still exists today because of Erin,” Bandal said. “She made the decision to commit herself to the team and recruit new members. She will graduate in May knowing she is leaving the team in good hands.”

The Spiders were down to one swimmer and one coach in 2014, thanks to graduation and others leaving the sport. Wheeler, then a freshman, and Bandal discussed what to do for a program with a rich history in synchro that had moved to club status in 2001.

In her nomination letter for Wheeler, Bandal wrote that she had “come to terms that the five-decade legacy of synchronized swimming at the University of Richmond might very well end there. … I presented Erin with several options, but after careful consideration, she decided that she wanted to swim because it would give the team its best chance at survival.”

“I resolved to step up as captain, even though it felt beyond daunting to be thrown into a leadership role on a new team, and at a new school I was just starting to adjust to,” Wheeler said. “However, I had Coach Asha’s invaluable support and guidance. I tabled to raise interest, met with students at the pool to teach them synchro skills one-on-one, and planned a ‘Try Synchro Day.’”

She soon had four teammates and each semester was able to draw four or five more, although some would not stay with the program. Last year was the first time Richmond brought a full team to nationals in a long while.

“While I didn’t have any teammates to start, I was able to show others why I fell in love with this sport,” Wheeler said. “Now I have an entire team of girls who are as passionate about synchronized swimming as I am. The girls who are on the team right now have developed close bonds with each other and have grown very devoted to synchro.

“Additionally, we have two girls with prior synchro experience, and we gained three freshmen with strong swimming skills and two new coaches in the past year. I think that this team is in a good place to continue to grow and become stronger in the years to come.”

Bandal said Wheeler is all about the team. She comes to practice early and is the last one to leave. She plans team dinners and outings. And although her solo routine is one of the main ways Richmond scores points, Wheeler made the unselfish decision to swim the team routine this year.

“Her logic this year was that since she will not be here next year, she could do more to positively impact the future team by swimming alongside our new members,” Bandal wrote. “Erin is the full package: an amazing athlete, a superior student, and a true giver.”

Wheeler, who is majoring in biology and minoring in Chinese and healthcare studies, will graduate in May and start dental school in July.

“I would like to thank all the coaches who have worked with me throughout all my years as a synchronized swimmer. I have learned so much from them, not only the skills they taught me for synchronized swimming, but the life lessons that they shared during breaks, snack times, or when I needed someone to talk to,” she said. “My teammates have also been a tremendous source of support, both in and out of water. I will always treasure the friendships that I have developed with my teammates over the past 12 years.”