When Esther Erb walks out onto the track in Titan Stadium in Oshkosh, Wis., at the 2008 NCAA Division III Track & Field Championships Thursday night, it won't be as a Case Western Reserve University student-athlete—but it will be as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant.
Erb is no longer a student, at least not right now. She graduated Sunday with a degree in music and cognitive science ending an academic run where she was named to six-of-eight Dean's High Honors Lists and two Dean's Honors Lists. The multi-time Academic All-American finished with a 3.86 grade-point average as an undergraduate.
"I wasn't able to reflect back on my athletic career on the stage this past weekend, but I will be able to reflect on it this weekend at nationals," Erb said. "I actually wasn't overly excited about graduating, because it is kind of like a birthday. It's expected to occur; it just meant I managed not to mess up too much yet."
One thing she didn't expect was a highly touted honor off the track. Erb was awarded both an Austrian-American Fulbright Commission English Teaching Assistantship and a Fulbright Commission English Teaching Assistantship in Germany. Erb chose Vienna, Austria, more specifically, and for good reasons. Her great aunt and many other relatives currently live in the historic European city.
"There were four households where I could have potentially stayed [in Vienna]," Erb explained. "Originally, I heard there was a pretty big fight over who was going to get to host me, so there was never a problem of where I was going to live."
Erb will teach English as a second language [ESL] 12-15 hours a week to area youth in grades 5-13. The fairly light schedule will give her time to dabble in another one of her loves—singing. While abroad she hopes to audition for the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, one of the top choirs in the world, while abroad.
"I really love teaching ESL," Erb said. "It's really fun to get to know the kids in their second language and watch them start to gossip and do everything else in English. I definitely enjoy watching people learn. I am looking forward to it."
A nine-time national qualifier, Erb also is looking forward to attempting to earn her fifth and sixth All-American honors this weekend in Wisconsin when she participates in the 10,000-meter run Thursday [6:30 p.m.] and the 5,000-meter run Saturday [3:55 p.m.]. The outcomes of both of those races are purely icing on the cake for one of the most highly decorated athletes in Case Western Reserve history.
Erb became the first female in University Athletic Association (UAA) history to achieve the Triple Crown, earning Most Outstanding Performer [Running Events] in both indoor and outdoor track and field as well as the individual title in women's cross country this year. The 16-time All-UAA selection and eight-time UAA champion has earned All-America status in cross country [2006 & 2007], outdoor track [2007, fifth in 5,000-meter - 17:01.30] and indoor track [2008, fourth in 5,000-meter – 17:17.21].
"This doesn't happen by mistake," said Head Cross Country and Assistant [distance] Track & Field Coach Kathy Lanese. "An athlete this highly decorated doesn't happen by accident. It takes a tremendous amount of physical and mental investment to achieve what she has achieved, and I commend her. Esther has been one of top five hardest-working athletes I have ever coached. She is very self-driven, and I feel honored to have coached an athlete of her caliber."
Ironically, Erb didn't begin running until her late teens, but her music career began much earlier. She began singing in choirs at age five and her musical career has taken off since joining Case Western Reserve.
While in college, Erb was part of numerous musical organizations on-campus including Collegium Musicum, Early Music Singers and the Case Concert Choir, among others. She also sang the national anthem at multiple Spartan sporting events, including three baseball games at Progressive Field, home of Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians. Erb also sang the anthem last year at an actual Indians' game.
Erb's teaching contract [Fulbright] is eight months in length [September-May]. She will run in the Berlin Marathon on September 28, and her orientation in Vienna begins on October 29. The English teacher by day, distance runner by night has already scheduled a second European run, the London Marathon on April 26, 2009.
"I am actually going to train for London," Erb explained. "Berlin is just going to be a trial run in which I underestimate myself and feel good at the end as opposed to pushing myself too hard."
Erb said she plans to pursue a graduate degree in education, possibly in her hometown of Richmond, Va., when she returns to the United States.
While Erb was in high school, she received a scholarship from the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange and spent her entire junior year in the tiny town of Geldern, Germany, on the Dutch border.
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