Northern Iowa Swimmer Lily Ernst Dies “Suddenly” at Age 20

University of Northern Iowa swimmer Lily Ernst died on Wednesday. She was 20 years old. The school did not release a cause of death, referring to it as a “sudden passing.”

Ernst, a native of Iowa City, swam two seasons at Northern Iowa. In the spring, she broke the school record in the 200 fly, finishing in 3rd place at the Missouri Valley Conference Championships. In 2021, as a freshman, she placed 2nd in that same event at the MVC Championships.

As a sophomore, she was named to the MVC Scholar-Athlete Team.

“UNI has lost a beloved member of the Panther family with the sudden passing of Lily Ernst,” Director of Athletics David Harris said. “This loss is heartbreaking for our swimming and diving team, our athletic department and the entire UNI campus. We offer our deepest condolences to Lily’s family, teammates and friends.”

“Our team is incredibly saddened by the loss of Lily,” head swimming and diving coach Nick Lakin said. “Lily was so filled with kindness and compassion for other people. She was a ferocious competitor in the pool and classroom, but for those that knew her best she was extremely empathetic and cared deeply about everyone in her life. We will all miss her immensely and are praying for everyone that knew her.”

Ernst raced at last weekend’s Iowa Long Course Championships in her hometown of Iowa City.

Ernst was majoring in social work with a minor in mental health at Northern Iowa.

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1 year ago

rip she is now with the great almighty

1 year ago

So sad to hear this. Way too many young people have died suddenly recently. My deepest condolences to her loved ones.

1 year ago

There is no possible pain worse than losing your child, and then add the tragedy of a child who has the grit to make it collegiate athletics and accomplished so much, the grief must be unimaginable. Lord, I pray you take her family into your hands and help them navigate this unbearable level of sadness in their lives.

Swimming Israel
1 year ago

Absolutely Heartbreaking :-/

1 year ago

Heartbreaking to lose someone so young. Prayers for the family and team. There have been way too many “sudden passings” the past year.

Swim Mom
1 year ago

Absolutely heartbreaking. My thoughts are with her family and friends.

Swim Bob
1 year ago

Such a devastating loss. Praying for Lily’s family and the UNI swim family.

1 year ago

I wonder if she is related to Joni Ernst, senator from Iowa. Iowa is not a very populous state and Ernst is not exactly a common surname.

Last edited 1 year ago by CavaDore
Reply to  CavaDore
1 year ago

time and a place buddy, time and a place

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Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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