Erik Juliusson became Laguna Beach High’s first two-time individual CIF swimming champion when he won the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke at Riverside Community College in May. A few weeks later, a local gallery displayed two of his drawings as part of an Art Walk exhibit featuring LBHS artists.
While winning races thrills Juliusson, who all ready owns five school records, it’s his dream of becoming an industrial designer that really gets his blood pumping. “I really like drawing, and I really like cars,” said the multi-talented sophomore.
Christa Chastain, a ’12 Laguna grad and herself an aspiring artist, organized the exhibit at 484 North Gallery because she wanted to give students a professional showcase for their work. “People really tended to like the Lamborghini,” she said of Juliusson’s pencil drawing.
Despite his long-term goal to design cars, over the next two years Juliusson hopes to lower his times enough to attract offers from top-division colleges, qualify for the 2016 Olympic trials and compete in the 2020 games.
“That definitely would be a dream come true,” said Juliusson.
“He’s on that path, and he’s trying to get there,” said his mother Julia, a competitive runner.
When he was 8, Juliusson gave up gymnastics to concentrate solely on swimming after a coach told him he had potential. “I was like sweet, and I kept swimming and kept training,” he said.
Adam Crossen, Erik’s club coach at Novaquatics, first saw the budding star swim as a seventh-grader. “I liked his competitiveness in practice,” Crossen said. But, the coach conceded, “I think he was still kind of raw.”
Three years later, the 6’1” sophomore is definitely showing signs of things to come.
“I think Erik will continue to get faster, break records, and inspire his peers,” said Laguna Head Coach Kari Johnson, who has seen nearly every school record—boys and girls—fall during her five years with the program.
Johnson made Juliusson a team captain this year, a role usually reserved for upper classmen and one he took very seriously. “He did a great job,” said Johnson. “He has a quiet strength about him.”
Juliusson credits a number of role models and mentors who have inspired him to excel as a swimmer, including Crossen, Johnson and, of course, 18-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. “I just want to be like that when I’m his age and see what I can do,” said Juliusson.
It’s his mother Julia, though, who has had the biggest impact on Juliusson. A physical therapist specializing in sports medicine and outpatient orthopedics, Julia began competing in triathlons seven years ago at age 41. In July of 2008, she ruptured her Achilles tendon while dismounting her bike during a race.
Given little chance of competing again anytime soon, if at all, she went on to race in nine triathlons over the next year, winning her age group in a local race just five months after her surgery.
Seeing his mother go down with an injury gave Juliusson a jolt of reality. “I thought, man, I don’t want that to happen to me,’ he said.
But watching her overcome considerable odds and return to world-class status in a grueling sport made a lasting impression on the young swimmer. “That was pretty cool, I thought,” he said.
“He sees a competitive parent, and he understands working hard,” said Julia.
Juliusson learned techniques for self-motivation during lectures at the 2012 Western Zone Select Camp, a program sponsored by USA Swimming that recognizes the top 28 girls and boys in four multi-state regions. During one of those lectures, athletes were instructed to write short and long-term goals on note cards and put them in a highly visible place.
Juliusson taped the card listing his goals above his bedroom door. “When I wake up, I actually see it every day,” he said.
And though he didn’t share exactly what was on the card, he did say that a CIF team title and individual CIF records in the 200 free and the 100 back are on the short list of things to do before graduation.