Emily Lundgren: lover of swimming and gummy bears

The story behind WSU swimming’s freshman record setter



WSU swimming relay teams take three medals at National Invitational Championships, March 9-11.

LUKE WESTFALL, Evergreen sports co-editor

Emily Lundgren had done what no Cougar had ever done before. 

Having taken third place at the Pac-12 Swimming Championships, she became the first WSU freshman swimmer in school history to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Her teammate, Dori Hathazi, was quick to follow.

“The first feeling was definitely shock,” Lundgren said. “I really wanted it and I knew that I could do it but I did surprise myself because I was in fourth most of the race, but I felt a lot of pride because I knew I was doing it for my team and I could hear them cheering and I knew they wanted it for me just as much as I wanted it for them.”

Emily Lundgren entered WSU as the No. 12 recruit out of California having already won multiple high school meets and qualifying for the 2021 Winter U.S. Open. In just her first year in Pullman, she has already set the school record in the 200-yard breaststroke and taken home hardware in the 2022 U.S. Open.

Lundgren’s swimming career began when she was 7. Her older sister swam competitively and as a result, she was always getting dragged around to her sister’s swim meets. It was when she spent her birthday in a hotel at one of her sister’s meets that she decided to give competitive swimming a shot.

It started to get more serious around age 9 and she started breaking records and becoming one of the fastest swimmers in San Diego. It was nerve-wracking always being at the top, but her coach’s words reassured her, she said.

“I remember a few conversations with my first age group coach, he would always talk about these Olympian swimmers and say ‘That’s exactly what they do,’” Lundgren said. “He would always compliment my work ethic and said all these little things that made me think ‘Hey, I’m pretty good at this and I think I might have a future in it.’”

Around the age of 13 she hit a plateau, both in terms of success and enjoyment, she said. She pushed through in large part thanks to her parents.

WSU swimming head coach Matt Leach said Lundgren’s parents are awesome and that they are “huge cheerleaders for her and for the entire team.” 

Lundgren has her parents, a sister and a younger brother and described herself as a “big family person.”

“My parents over my freshman year of college have been at pretty much every single meet and my siblings are my biggest supporters, if [her swim meets are] live-streamed they’re always watching,” Lundgren said. “My little brother will text me during class and he had his whole class watch me, they’re definitely my biggest inspiration.”

The connection to WSU was not there at first, but after meeting the coaches and visiting the campus she knew it would be home.

“I never really heard about the school, but I have family from up there, but after that first call I told my mom immediately, ‘Hey, Washington State, that might be a place I go’ and connecting with Matt and him connecting with my family I was like, ‘Yeah, this is definitely the place,’” she said. 

At first, the school offered her a little bit of scholarship money, but Lundgren kept dropping her event times and ended up coming into WSU as the school record holder in the 200-yard breast. The whole recruitment process was textbook, Leach said.

In her freshman year Lundgren saw a lot of success, much of which can be attributed to her biggest strength: her ability to bounce back from failure, she said. 

Her weakness is being too hard on herself, something Leach said can help or hurt her.

“She wants to win and be the best, which is great, but there’s times when we’re training really hard and it’s hard to swim 100% where you need to be a bit easier on yourself,” Leach said.

Lundgren values her relationships with her coaches and teammates, she said. It’s all smiles when she sees them around campus and she loves hanging out with teammates outside the pool as well.

“We like to watch movies and sing karaoke in the dorms or go out for food or order in,” said her freshman teammate Hathazi. 

Lundgren said she has a “pool me” and an “outside me.” When she is not swimming or with friends, she is balancing school and hobbies. 

She was on her high school honor roll and said the last couple of years she has learned to stay on track by setting her priorities at the beginning of each week. 

When she finds free time, she likes to read, bake cookies and brownies for others and just relax. She also has become an avid drummer since she picked it up to get closer to her brother, who is an aspiring musician.

Every athlete requires the right fuel. Lundgren has found that cutting out dairy from her diet and packing the maximum amount of protein and carbs helps her feel good on race day.

All these factors helped her become one of the best freshmen swimmers in the country and both Leach and Hathazi credited her improvement in her mental game. But more than that, she hopes her teammates see her as a bright and bubbly personality.

She keeps a steady routine pre-race to make sure she is ready to go, one that might surprise you.

“I use my [nervousness] to my advantage. When I’m nervous I know I’m going to do good,” Lundgren said. “And then listening to music, specifically hard rock like Metallica and then taking a moment to be myself and shake everything out and focus … and my main thing is I always eat gummy bears before my races. All my friends know gummy bears are my secret weapon.”

Lundgren said her friends bought her a three-pound bag of gummy bears for her birthday.

With the season over, Lundgren is setting her sights on U.S. Olympic trials in late May and hoping it can help her achieve her goal of swimming at the highest level now and after college. 

“The next couple of years I want to lower the records and get some records taken down and go to Pac’s [Conference Championships] and be competitive and hopefully we get more points as a team and individually there,” she said. “Placing top eight at NCAA’s would definitely be an end goal.”