This is the fourth in a series of profiles of Minnesota athletes who are competing for Team USA in the Maccabiah Games – also known as “the Jewish Olympics” – in Israel from July 12-26.
Erika Schraber wasn’t planning on submitting her swim times for consideration to be part of Team USA at the Maccabiah Games. But since the family was planning on being in Israel for the bat mitzvah of her younger sister, Alex, her parents decided to surprise her.
“I didn’t want to do it,” she said. “It’s too much work and I was going to be gone for too long. And then they did it. They surprised me at practice one day when they found out that I got in.”
The process of applying is part of what dissuaded Schraber initially. She said that you first apply a year before the team is selected, and every time her time drops in an event, she’d have to email the coaches so they could keep their database of swimmers updated.
“I just didn’t want to deal with it,” she said. “But I was happy when I found out.”
Schraber had originally applied to be in Maccabiah in 2021, but it was postponed until 2022 because of COVID. Competing in 2021 also meant she’d have been in the under-16 division. The delay until this summer meant she turned 17 and is now in the open competition.
“Most of the team is college kids,” said her father, Paul. “She, and a very accomplished boy who committed to Indiana, are the two high school kids. We thought once we resubmitted her times it would end in disappointment” since she was now competing in the open group.
Schraber is going into her senior year at Wayzata High School, and also swims for Minnetonka Swim Club when it’s not high school season. She recently committed to swim collegiately at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.
Compared with team sports like volleyball or baseball, the tryout process is a little different because performance can be subjective. In swimming, the clock doesn’t lie.
“It’s college recruiting and stuff – it just makes everything a lot easier because you don’t have to go to all these camps,” she said. “Because your time’s your time.”
Schraber is primary a distance swimmer but has also excelled at sprint distances while swimming at Wayzata. Her father said that she’ll be swimming distance races in Israel, and isn’t sure about relays. In other “championship meets” – ones that are four or five days – she may swim up to three individual events and be a part of five relay teams.
The pool is also one of fastest because there are no gutters on the sides of the pool to push the waves back into the swimmers in the outside lanes. The water on the pool deck gets pumped back into the pool from below, Paul Schraber said.
“If you’re in the middle or end (of the pool) it doesn’t matter,” he said. “In these races, she could be in last place and still swim faster than she ever has. It’s all perception.”
There is a rhythm to preparing for meets and the different seasons of club or high school swimming. For Schraber, the timing of Maccabiah works out well – if she wasn’t going to be in Israel she would be competing in the NCSA Junior Nationals at the same time.
“It fits pretty good into my schedule,” she said. “There’s a meet the week before I leave that I’ll go to in Fargo to see what I can do before I start resting for Maccabiah.”
The team will get to Israel 10 days before competing for a short training camp/tour around Israel before the games start.
“Once you get to this level, it’s kind of like the coaches expect you to know what to do,” she said. “I know my race strategy, and they know this. So they’re kind of more looking for you to tell them what you want to do and less of them telling you what to do.”
She said that she is looking forward to getting to know who her teammates are – especially since she has likely competed against them in the past.
“I’m looking forward to like meeting other Jewish swimmers from around the country because I don’t really know many of them,” she said. “I know that they’re out there, but getting to know, those people will be nice having that community.”