NEW YORK (Reuters) - Swimmer Dana Vollmer has beaten the odds before and the American is displaying her inspiring heart again in a comeback quest for more Olympics hardware at this year’s Rio Summer Games.
Vollmer, who overcame heart surgery as a teenager to win gold at the 2004 Olympics, and set a world record on the way to winning the 100m butterfly at the 2012 Games, aims to show she still has what it takes after giving birth last year.
“It’s been a whirlwind, it’s been crazy and it’s also been the most rewarding time of my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Vollmer told Reuters after launching a commercial for sponsor Procter & Gamble’s “Thank You, Mom” campaign.
“It is challenging to decide to want to come back and to try and make an Olympics and be a new mom.”
Her first child, son Arlen, was born in March 2015 and the tall, lanky Vollmer said she is coping well with help from husband and ex-Stanford swimmer Andy Grant.
Vollmer, with a vital assist from her mother, answered a massive challenge after she was diagnosed with a heart condition at age 14.
”Any injury is scary,“ the 28-year-old Vollmer said. ”A heart illness especially.
”I had an extra electrical pathway in my heart that made my heart rate skyrocket randomly when I was training. And so they went in through my femoral artery and cauterized it and I actually competed in nationals a week later.
“My mom’s been there through all of it. She’s been my biggest supporter.”
Vollmer said there were concerns along the way.
”We did have a scare. They saw patterns of Long QT syndrome, which is the resting interval that the heartbeat takes and it can take too long and the fear is that your heart stops.
“So my mom carried a defibrilator unit to every workout, every practice with the fear that my heart might stop,” she said.
“She sat there with her defibrilating unit from when I was first diagnosed at 14 until I left for college.”
Vollmer, who at age 12 was the youngest swimmer at the U.S. Olympic trials in 2000, made the Olympic team four years later and in Athens was a member of the gold medal winning, world record-setting U.S. 4x200m freestyle relay team.
In 2012, Vollmer also claimed golds in the 4x100m medley and the 4x200m freestyle relay.
After a couple months of bed rest with her newborn son. Vollmer was too antsy to lay around and decided she wanted to focus on getting back in the pool.
“I listened to my doctors and waited until six weeks after the birth. It was very small, just working on my exhales and pulling my stomach in.”
Vollmer then progressed to working in the pool.
“I was just very gentle with myself in my comeback and took it really slow ... we just took it day by day and looked at health and getting myself stronger and more fit while also trying to be the best mom that I could be,” she said.
The former University of California swimmer said she vowed never to put swimming above time with her son.
”When I get up and leave at 4:30 in the morning for my swim workouts, (my husband‘s) there with Arlen and gets his Dad time with breakfast and getting him ready for the day. Then I’m home and get the rest of the day with him.
“I’m happier in my personal life than I think I’ve ever been. We worked really hard to be as efficient as we can and to really maximize the workouts that I have.”
Vollmer is aiming to qualify for both the butterfly and freestyle at the U.S. Olympic trials in Nebraska in early July.
“Hopefully when I get to Rio, it’s a good fight for a medal.”
Editing by Frank Pingue