Emma Timm-Ballard (middle) signs with the Washington crew team with her mother, Dana (right), and father, Charles (left), at Wa-Hi’s Fletcher Room Tuesday evening.
WALLA WALLA — After setting a Walla Walla High School record and finishing third in state in the 100 backstroke during her junior year, Emma Timm-Ballard was sure she would be a college swimmer.
But after dislocating her knee before her senior season, suddenly the future was up in the air.
With more than 14 years of swimming experience, Timm-Ballard’s swimming career was abruptly cut short because of the injury.
But just as one door closed, another opened up.
“(She was) not really sure who she was or where she belongs outside of the pool,” Wa-Hi swim coach Katharine Curles said. “It just happened at the worst possible timing.”
Instead of proceeding with a swimming career, Timm-Ballard signed a national letter of intent to join the University of Washington crew team on Tuesday.
With no prior crew experience, Timm-Ballard’s background in the pool was a big reason for her crossover to crew.
“The coach at UW saw me at state last year because I’m tall,” Timm-Ballard said. “I guess they like having kids with good endurance, and with swimming you definitely get that.”
Timm-Ballard, who made it to the state meet in each of her previous three seasons at Wa-Hi, will join a Husky program led by one of the most decorated coaches in the nation. Bob Ernst, who is currently in his 40th season at the school, has won six National Championships as head coach of the Huskies’ women’s team.
“They are a program of high-caliber because they recruit kids just like her,” Curles said. “They’ve taken care of her. They’ve showed her she belongs. There’s nothing more that an adolescent girl needs than to be needed by a team.”
After meeting Ernst and visiting the Washington campus, Timm-Ballard said choosing the Huskies was an easy decision.
Plus, she had former teammates who joined the crew program after swimming careers.
“I know some of the girls up there and they all love it,” Timm-Ballard said. “I know three girls that just started this year and it was their first time and they’re all doing really well.”
Curles said Timm-Ballard always wanted to go to Washington, but the Huskies did not have a swimming program. After Timm-Ballard was close to signing with the University of Idaho for swimming, Curles was thrilled upon hearing Timm-Ballard’s decision.
“It was so fun to get a text from her and emails with all these exclamation points saying, ‘This is the best recruiting trip ever and this is where I belong,’” Curles said. “Everything in her life went from gray to colored.”
Now, Timm-Ballard is focused on learning the sport and hitting the weight room. She will study physical therapy during her time at UW.
As far as crew goes, Curles said Washington is getting a versatile athlete with an unrelenting work ethic.
“She’s really open to having her stroke changed, and I think that will be true to her crew form, too,” she said. “They’re going to have a really malleable athlete that they can really fine-tune to being what they need.”