Ken Eriksen has been working non-stop for years. Thursday it finally caught up with him.
Since 2001, Eriksen has been on double duty — both head coach of the USF softball team and assistant on the recent gold-medal-winning United States National softball team.
With the conclusion of an incredible ride with Team USA over the past few years, which included the Olympics in Athens as well as trips to Italy and Japan — all while he kept an eye on his USF program — Eriksen is pretty exhausted.
“I crashed (Thursday),” Eriksen said. “I (had) been home for days and it finally caught up with me. I knew it was going to hit me. I just didn’t know when.”
Since he’s come home, Eriksen has had a lot on his plate. Things such as adjusting back to the Eastern Time zone, dealing with the emotions of being back home or simply answering a lot of questions have Eriksen spent.
“(Wednesday) I just sat down on the couch and, man, the air went out of the balloon,” Eriksen said.
Only now he can reflect on it all.
“Now we’re beginning to enjoy it,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be fun while your doing it because it was a lot of work. People say, ‘Well, did you have a great time?’ And I kept telling them, ‘Wait until it’s over. I’ll let you know when it’s over if I had a great time.’
“And now I am beginning to realize I had a great time. But during that time there wasn’t a lot of time for goofing around. There wasn’t a lot of time for sightseeing. Our focus was on the gold medal. It was on the gold medal from the get go.”
Coaching an Olympic team to gold doesn’t earn coaches a medal. But Eriksen will receive a diamond-studded ring and a watch. Ask him, though, and he’ll say the material rewards don’t mean a thing compared to the experiences he had along the way.
“It was a perfect setting to enjoy the entire Olympic experience from the land of Greece all the way to the Olympic village and meeting everybody that participated,” he said. “Rubbing elbows with people like Michael Phelps and Martina Navratilova and the basketball teams and the volleyball teams — it was exhilarating to know that everybody was wearing red, white and blue, and everybody was on the same team.”
A USF softball player added, “How many people can say they have coached worldwide?”
Eriksen’s role with Team USA is one he said he anticipates being offered again because of the team’s success. But any thoughts on the issue have been postponed for a month or so, he said.
Being around his family, being available for USF softball and financial issues are just a few of the things he must consider. Balancing everything during the past few years has been difficult, but going from one challenge to another makes it easier, according to Eriksen.
The experiences translated to his players and USF as well.
“Being a part of that coaching staff is just a little part of winning that gold medal for the team,” he said. “But our involvement here spreads and people who didn’t know about South Florida now know.”
His next challenge is USF’s upcoming softball season.
“I can’t wait to get this 2004-2005 team on the right track. I’m ready to go,” he said.
And so are the USF softball players.
“I am glad he’s back,” said pitcher/outfielder Rachel Rosenbaum.