Erika Aklufi used to be a swimmer and a lawyer. Now she is a policewoman and a standout runner. What has stayed constant, no matter what she is doing, is her passion.
"It's like what Pre said: 'To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift,'" she said, referring to Steve Prefontaine, who once held American records in seven different distance track events from 2000 meters to 10,000 meters.
"As a lawyer, I did civil litigation, and it was very interesting work, but I worked with people who really loved it. And I realized I didn't love it like they did."
In 2006, Aklufi left her practice and began working for the Santa Monica Police Department.
"After law school, I had considered applying to the FBI," said Aklufi. "I wanted to be Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs. But I never considered it because I didn't know anyone else who was a police officer."
A swimmer all her life - from age five through high school and college at Yale - Aklufi started running for fun while in law school at UC Davis. On a whim, she signed up for a marathon in Sacramento, despite the fact that she wasn't really training for it. She finished in 3:47. In her second marathon - the Pacific Shoreline Marathon - she won the whole thing in 3:06.
"I was never built like a swimmer," said Aklufi. "I'm built like a runner. It's definitely what I'm meant to do. I just love it."
In 2016, Aklufi competed in almost every distance between a mile race and the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. She excels both on the road and on the trail. Last week, she won the XTERRA Malibu Creek 22K in 1:51:35. She's run a 16:14 5K and has brought her marathon PR down to 2:50, which is right around the Olympic Trials qualifying time.
"I never want to pigeon hole myself," she said. "I want to challenge myself. In swimming, no one swims just one stroke or one distance, even the distance swimmers. You have to be a jack of all trades. If I am going to be doing all that running, I want to test myself at different distances."
All of Aklufi's exploring has brought her to a sweet spot. She is part of The Janes Elite Racing Team and is a sergeant in the Santa Monica Police Department.
"Putting my name in with the Santa Monica Police Department was the best decision of my life," said Aklufi. "Ten years just passed by in the blink of an eye."
As with running, Aklufi wears many hats as a police officer. "I'm on patrol rolling around in a black and white, I've worked with kids, and I've been a detective."
Yet, despite all of her success, Aklufi is modest about her accomplishments. She spent her last birthday marking the 11K course for the XTERRA Malibu Creek Trail Run.
"I don't know," she said, "Really, I'm just a person who signs up for things."