Diving Head First Into Life


Erick Fortner carries on his grandmother’s legacy in every competiton. PHOTO//KARL MOORE

Leandro Forero, Contributing Writer

Stroke by stroke, it is just himself and the clock to beat-a new personal best for Piedmont University’s Erick Fortner. Student-athletes go through challenging obstacles throughout life, but people often don’t see that. After losing his grandmother, Fortner tries to dive over this obstacle.

Fortner traces his love of swimming back to his grandmother, who “threw him into the pool and taught him how to swim” at age five.

Although he knew how to swim, competitive swimming was not in Fortner’s mind entering high school. He tried out his freshman year and, to his surprise, made the varsity team. Zack Coker, head swim and dive coach at East Paulding High school, saw potential in Fortner and wanted him to take his swimming career to a higher level.

“I chose Piedmont because my high school swim coach asked if I wanted to swim in college,” said Fortner. “I was also in the band at the time, so I was torn between whether I wanted to swim or play the band in college. I wanted to decide on my senior year. Well, sure enough, I did well my senior year, and I wanted to become a college swimmer.”

Excited, nervous, and so many thoughts were going through his head. Fortner was anxious to get into the water and race in his first collegiate season with the Lions. Meet by meet, Fortner was dropping times, and the Lions were staying undefeated. He received the devastating news one week before the team’s biggest meet yet against William Peace University.

“It was five in the morning, and I had trouble sleeping, oddly enough,” Fortner said. “I checked my phone and saw that I had seven missed calls from my sister-in-law and a couple of missed calls from my mom. I was confused because I was half asleep and my sister-in-law called me again, saying Ethan, my brother, and I are 10 minutes away, so pack a bag and meet me outside.”

After the news struck him, Fortner couldn’t believe it and started breaking down. “She was one of the most important people in my life,” said Fortner. “She was like my rock, which was very hard for me. At the moment, it was very unbelievable that it happened.”

After spending time with his family and attending the memorial services for his grandmother, Fortner knew there was one thing he could do to honor her legacy.

“At her funeral, I gave a speech and devoted my swim career to her,” Fortner said. “So every tiresome day and bad practice, I just have to think I’m not just doing it for me, but also for her.”

Even though the 2021/2022 season ended very quickly, Fortner was training harder than ever to meet his goal times and help his team. He didn’t let his team down. Fortner set four career highs at the Independent South Championship meet and ranked top five on the team in eight events as a freshman. Fortner went 1:00.41 in the 100 breaststroke, 2:13.23 in the 200 breaststroke, and 4:35.89 in the 400 individual medley. He also made the Independent South All-Conference, USA South All-Academic Team, and Independent South All-Academic Team in his first year as a student-athlete.

Fortner had so much support during the season from his family and friends, most notably, Coach Theodore Guyer and his teammates. “All the guys on the team, all had my back, and they were very uplifting,” said Fortner. “It was very nice to know I had a community I could lean on.”

Coach Guyer is heading into his third year as Piedmont’s men’s and women’s coach, so he had high hopes for Fortner as soon as he stepped onto campus and knew that Fortner would be something special for the team.

“Erick is a great guy, and everybody likes him. He has good grades, and I don’t have to worry about him academically. He gets along with people and outside the team,” said Guyer. “He made many gains in his first year because of his consistency in hard practice. Erick is working hard, and the gains are still coming.”

At his current pace, Guyer sees great things in Erick’s future. “Erick has exceptional talent,” said Guyer.“If Erick continues to make the drops, he is making. I could see him being a 54 or 55 breaststroker next year, and I won’t be surprised if he makes it to nationals in his college career.”

His teammates notice the work ethic Coach Guyer speaks of, and it positively impacts other members of the team.

“Erick is a teammate to me because he’s one of the hardest workers at practice, and when his grandma died, he devoted the meets and him winning for her,” said Matthew Luther, a member of the men’s swim team.

“Erick, as a teammate, is extremely supportive and usually positive around me. He’s always there to support or encourage me, even if I had a bad race. He is a great teammate to have,” said Glynn Morgan, a member of the men’s swim team. “He was shaken by what happened; however, he could hold his head high and keep pushing forward even during that dark time in his life.”

Going into his second year of swimming for Piedmont University, this season holds a lot of promise for Fortner, and every time he steps up on that block, he knows who to do for. “I know my grandma is in a good place right now; she is cheering me on at every meet I go to. I know that I will never let her down.”