Erika Newell is her own unique individual, the person we all wish we could be. She left her mark at Branford High School, where she was captain of girls swimming, indoor track and outdoor track, a high honor student and a section leader in the school choir. She was the state champion in swimming and was named to the All-American and All-State teams. By the time she graduated in 2001 she held four school records and most of the rest were held by her BSHOF sister Kierstin. In track she held the school record in the high jump and was also named to the All-State track team. Erika sometimes successfully competed in both track and swimming on the same day and sang in the choir at night.
After Branford, Erika went to North Carolina State on a swimming scholarship where as a freshman she was named the most valuable swimmer and set a school record in the 100-yard backstroke event. Erika is always full of surprises and she surprised everyone when the next year she transferred to Fordham University to be closer to home, but also because they had an ROTC program she could participate in. During her three years at Fordham she became Fordham’s first multi-event winner at the Atlantic 10 Championships, winning the 100- and 200-yard backstroke events. In her senior year she set the Atlantic 10 backstroke record, and when she graduated held a total of nine school records. She also participated in outdoor track, theater, ROTC and the Pershing Rifles military fraternity. She was named Fordham’s outstanding female athlete in 2005 and was inducted into the Fordham University Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
Upon graduation, Erika entered the United States Military, where she was trained as a Human Intelligence Agent. In 2007 she began a 12-month deployment to Afghanistan where she was the assistant leader of a 10-man team that conducted 117 missions as interrogator and human intelligence collector. During this time she conducted liaisons with coalition forces and multiple local sub-governors, police chiefs and tribal elders to aid in the stability and security of the region against insurgents. In 2009 she was deployed again, this time to Kuwait, where again she served as a human intelligence agent running liaison missions. During her five years in the military, Erika continued to excel in numerous physical activities. During army competition to simulate swimming the English Channel, Erika set the record by completing a 26-mile swim between missions in 10 hours and 20 minutes over a day-and-a- half and went on to do this four more times during the 45 days the Army gave to complete the swim. She held her company’s record for most sit-ups and push-ups for both male and female soldiers.
After an Honorable Discharge from the Army, Erika entered a two-year Exotic Animal Training and Management Program in California. She is a certified scuba diver, and for the past several years has worked at the Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City, FL. She trains bottlenose dolphins on husbandry behaviors, allowing animals to participate in their own health care. She works with animals during shows both in and out of the water and conducts high-energy aerial behaviors. She announces shows for crowds upwards of 1,500 people.
Her former teammates at Branford, North Carolina, Fordham, U.S. Army and now Gulf World Marine Park know that Erika inspired all of them. She believes everything is possible and don’t ever tell her she can’t do something because that means she will do it. Branford is proud of what Erika has done for our town and for our country and is honored to have her inducted into the Branford Sports Hall of Fame.