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Finding Victory in Every Season: How Olympic Swimmer Dana Vollmer Strives for Gold in Each Chapter of her Life

by Mar 6, 2019podcast, Surviving Defeat, World-class Women4 comments

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About This Episode

Before most people could doggy paddle, Dana Vollmer was swimming competitively. The daughter of a swim coach, she was in the water at such an early age that she cannot even explicitly remember learning how. By age eleven she was swimming year round and at age twelve she stepped on to the block at her first Olympic trials. A self described “feisty competitor”, Dana always focused on her times, never her age, and was frustrated to not make the team that year. Her father gently reminded her that, although she took 49th place, that meant that 51 other elite athletes had just been beaten by a twelve year old.

In the wake of the Olympic trials, Dana decided to train even harder, with her hopes set on the 2004 games in Athens. One afternoon during training when she was 14, her heart rate soared and wouldn’t slow down. This happened several more times and prompted a trip to a cardiologist where it was discovered that she had an extra electrical pathway in her heart. She had immediate surgery to correct the issue, but still had other markers for a genetic heart disorder that was known to cause sudden death in young athletes. It was the advice of her doctors that she give up swimming entirely.

Weighing Dana’s dreams with the potentially tragic outcome was incredibly difficult. But at the end of the day, “my parents did not want fear to control my life,” says Dana. They decided to let their daughter continue doing what she loved, but in the safest way possible. That meant her mother sat poolside at every practice with a defibrillator clenched in her hands in the event that her daughter’s heart stopped mid-race. Year after year the risks lingered over her as she swam. It wasn’t until she interviewed her mother for a medical research paper in college that Dana truly understood her mom’s position. “She managed to shield her fear from me so that I didn’t carry it,” says Dana. Her mother used to check on her at night to make sure she was still breathing, didn’t ever want to her to anything scary or startling, and, quite literally, held her daughter’s life in her hand at every meet.

Putting health concerns aside, at age sixteen Dana stepped back on to the block at another Olympic trials. This time, however, she was older, more mature, and learned how to focus on just her race. Not only did she make the team, but won Olympic gold in the 4×200 relay and set a new World Record. She headed home overwhelmed, proud, and straight into the halls of a typical high school. “It felt like half the school loved me for what I had done — and half hated me,” she says. She struggled with how to be herself–an athlete and a normal teenager–within the public eye. A disc injury in her back completely threw her training for the year and added another component of uncertainty. Eager to move on from the awkward season she was in, she graduated high school a year early and headed to the University of Florida. Amidst a new team, new coaches, and new friends, she felt even greater pressure to live up to her reputation. The mismatch she felt with the training program and the staff compelled her to transfer to Cal-Berkeley after just one year.

Despite the improved fit at Cal-Berkeley, she was still grappling internally with her interpretation of other people’s expectations and with her fragmented identity. At her third Olympic trials in 2008, “I was in tears behind my goggles before I even swam,” she shares. The World Record holder failed to make the Olympic team in every single one of her events. Ashamed and disappointed, Dana went to stay with a friend, hoping to just disappear. Two of her coaches, Terry McKeever and Milt Nelms, recognized that she needed to get away from competition and gain some perspective. Milt founded a “Learn to Swim” program in Fiji, an island nation with huge drowning rates, and invited Dana to join on an upcoming trip. She spent time teaching others how to swim and said, “It was amazing to realize that it wasn’t all about Olympic level swimming.” For once it wasn’t about proving herself or finishing with a certain time – it was about doing something for others that made a difference. She specifically remembers a final open water relay race from island to island with the students. In the midst of the beautiful ocean, with the fish and the sky and new friends, far outside of her bubble, she remembered that she truly just loved to swim. And she wasn’t ready to be done.

She returned to California with a fresh understanding that it was her mentality, not her physicality that needed a reform. Other areas of her life began to get the attention that they needed. She worked with a therapist, got married, sorted out food sensitivities, and balanced her training. “I took a look at my entire life, realizing that everything impacts how you race and how you train. All areas need to be happy to be the best athlete that you can be,” she says. And the results spoke for themselves. At the 2012 Olympics in London Dana won three gold medals and set two more World Records. In retrospect, Dana says that she wouldn’t be the athlete she is today if it weren’t for missing the Olympic team in 2008.

She briefly considered retiring after such a successful 2012 games, but the momentum was too alluring. Although she made the World Championships the following year, nagging shoulder and back issues needed to be tended to. She never actually signed retirement papers, but decided to take a break to see what life was like outside of competitive athletics. She studied architecture and design, bought a house in the suburbs, and became pregnant with her first son. During the final eight weeks of her pregnancy she was put on strict bedrest. Sitting still was brutal, and after giving birth she hopped back in the water to get back in shape the only way she knew how. The 2016 Olympic trials were only a year away, but she committed to train for them. “It wasn’t about the goal, it was about the lifestyle I wanted to have,” she says. She knew that she was the best version of herself when she live an intentionally balanced life – and that included swimming.

Dana was elated to make the 2016 Olympic team, but heading back to training camp as a mom had its unique challenges. Not many swimmers had families and she had to advocate for time with her son and a training regimen that fit her postpartum. Again, Dana medaled large in Rio de Janeiro, taking home gold, silver, and bronze medals. But participating as a mother changed the way that she related with her teammates, trained, and viewed competition. Out of her own longing for community, Dana has started the Power of Mom movement to help give a voice, encouragement, and motivation to elite athletes who are mothers and may feel isolated in their sport. She even took her family to Denmark to spend time training with one of her former rivals who also recently had a daughter, but still has Olympic dreams for 2020.

At each competition, Dana still feels the results-based mindset start to creep back in. She has to resist the temptation to analyze others’ expectations and constantly let go of the need to prove herself. “I always have to step back and realize that this is about my journey, racing, and doing what I love,” she says. She believes that there is a faster butterfly technique out there and is determined to discover it as she aspires to the Olympics in Beijing. These days, however, training looks like family trips to camps, workouts around her kids’ schedules, and swimming in the open ocean. But now, more than ever, her life is full of things she loves.

For more about Dana and to be a part of her journey, check out her website and follower her on Instagram.

 

Follow online:

 

IG: @dana.vollmer

Danavollmer.com

Read Episode Transcript

Laura:

[00:00:05] Welcome to the hope sports podcast where elite athletes recount the challenges and experience that have shaped them both as competitors and as people. I’m your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. This week’s guest was just 12 years old when she swam at her first Olympic trials. And as of today she’s won a total of 32 medals in major international competition including seven Olympic medals. I’m so excited to have Dana Vollmer with us today sharing about the ups and downs of her incredible career. She has swam through a life threatening heart condition falling short of making the Olympic team mid career and becoming a mother to two beautiful boys. And still she swims on inspiring us with her optimism and aspirations and desire to unite a very unique set of athletes.

 

[00:00:51] And if this conversation resonates with you and you’re looking to dig deeper into exploring purpose and performance then I have a really great resource for you that I’ll tell you more about after we hear from Diana. I’m glad you’re here. Now let’s dive on in. Dana Vollmer welcome to the hope sports podcast are so excited to have you on today.

 

Dana:

[00:01:07] Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

 

Laura:

[00:01:09] Now for those listening who may not know too much about you. Can you kind of tell us how you got your start in swimming.?

 

Dana:

[00:01:15] Yeah I actually was in my first competition when I was 4. For my mom was a swim coach. I don’t actually remember learning how to swim. I have just always been around the water and always had a love for being in there.

 

Laura:

[00:01:28] Oh that’s awesome. I don’t think I could swim at 4. Not at all. Not even strokes.

 

Dana:

[00:01:31] Yeah. So then it was just a summer league team until I was eleven and then I transition to year-round swimming. And when we moved down to Texas and actually made my first Olympic trials at twelve and then still competing today. So many many years later. OK so first Olympic trials at twelve years old. I mean did you even understand the hugeness of that.

 

Laura:

[00:01:48] OK so first Olympic trials at twelve years old. I mean did you even understand the hugeness of that? What was that like for you?

 

Dana:

[00:01:58] You know I don’t think I fully comprehended what it meant to make that time standard to be at the Olympic trials. But I mean I was feisty competitive little thing and just always trying to get best times. And that was the gold time that was set in front of me. And when I was a little 12year old walking around with her board on deck getting everyone to sign it and in all of everyone.

 

Laura:

[00:02:20] That’s awesome!

 

Dana:

[00:02:23] And. But yet I remember walking away so mad that I didn’t make an Olympic team and I got 49th place and.

 

Laura:

[00:02:30] Oh man.

 

Dana:

[00:02:31] My dad had to remind me that 51 women just got beat by a 12year old and sick to go back home and train. And so it’s come full circle now that I see these youngsters coming up and beating me at the competition.

 

Laura:

[00:02:46] Oh man. That is cool. That is cool. OK well it’s also just two years after that you’re 14 and you get a kind of scary health diagnosis. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

 

Dana:

[00:02:55] Yeah I was in the middle of training and my heart rate spiked to 250 and we couldn’t get it to come back down. And it actually happened a couple of times. Once when I was sitting on the couch watching TV. Once when I was jumping rope. Once when I was in the pool. And so we immediately went to the cardiologist and it turned out that I had an extra electrical pathway in my heart. And so we ended up during surgery they went in through my from your artery and cauterize it wasn’t open heart surgery or anything. They cauterize that electrical pathway and I didn’t have that racing heartbeat anymore. But through testing, they had seen random patterns of what they call long QT syndrome. And so that that was the scariest part for us. That’s known as one of the leading causes of sudden death in athletes.

 

Laura:

[00:03:42] Oh Wow.

 

Dana:

[00:03:43] And luckily now all these years later they now have a genetic test for that and it turns out that I don’t have it.

 

Laura:

[00:03:50] Wow!

 

Dana:

[00:03:51] So that was a huge relief to us. We just found out actually through prenatal testing for my second child that I officially didn’t have that genetic marker.

 

Laura:

[00:03:59] Wow. Because after that your mom had to carry a defibrillator to every single practice and competition you went to right? Like just in case?

 

Dana:

[00:04:07] Yeah. Just in case something happened. I refused to touch it as a 14year old. It was just too scary I think for me to process. So I really felt the strength that my mom had and taking that on and letting me still train and letting me compete. And she was right there clutching this defibrillator hoping that nothing happened and luckily nothing ever did.

 

Laura:

[00:04:28] Well how did you guys make that decision? Because I can’t. I mean you’re a mom now too. I can’t imagine being faced with that for my kid. I mean can you kind of walk me through those perspectives like what were or was it even not a question for you? I don’t. I don’t know.

 

Dana:

[00:04:42] Well for me the 14year old of course was no I will always swim. But I think you know my parents had many conversations about not letting fear control my life. And we couldn’t be in a bubble. And they were gonna do everything that they could to make me safe but allow me to do what I loved. And I. To my core loved swimming and training and racing and so they did everything they could. And that meant being right next to me in training holding onto a defibrillator.

 

Laura:

[00:05:15] Wow! What an amazing kind of courageous move from your parents. That says a lot about them. I think and I know you said you did in college you did like a research paper. We were talking about illness or something. And you interviewed your mom and said it was the first time you knew how scared she actually was?

 

Dana:

[00:05:29] Yeah. I was doing a medical anthropologyclass on the different perspectives of illness and I decided to write it on my mom. And me she shielded so much of her fear from me. And she didn’t want me to know how scary of a decision this was and didn’t want me training constantly thinking if I was putting my life at risk. And so just hearing how many times she came in in the middle of the night to see if I was still breathing. She was terrified to let me do anything scary that it might put my heart into some strange rhythm. Just how much fear she had. I just never really understood.

 

Laura:

[00:06:08] Wow wow. I think parenting is probably the hardest job on earth right.

 

Dana:

[00:06:13] Yes. Yes. It is.

 

Laura:

[00:06:15] So OK. It wasn’t long after that diagnosis and the decision to keep going. That you made your first Olympic team as just a 16year old in Athens Greece. And you won a gold medal there in the 4 x 200meter free relay. I mean did you. Obviously, you’re competitive and you expected to make the Olympic team at 12 so I’m guessing you fully thought this was possible?

 

Dana:

[00:06:35] Most definitely. That was the goal. That was the plan. I felt like you know while the heart episode was really scary. It didn’t necessarily take me out of the sport for very long. And so I just kept training and my coaches always really good. About saying like it’s the same lane it’s the same block. It’s you know just get up there swim your own race. Do it you know how to do. Don’t focus on other people and. At the Olympic trials, I was actually next to the American record holder at the time. And I just I can vividly remember that race more so than a lot of other races. Just making that first Olympic team being 16 I just. I remember being very overwhelmed a lot of the time? I just kind of went with the flow tried to copy what all these other amazing Olympians were doing.

 

[00:07:22] And even when we won the gold and you realize that you just broke an ancient world record. And got that first gold medal. And you can watch videos. It’s like every couple seconds I copy what Natalie Coughlin did. She puts her arms up in screen and I have my arms do the same. I just was so overwhelmed. So excited. So proud of the journey. And I don’t think I had. Everything had seemed like it had fallen into place kind of along that path. At that time.

 

Laura:

[00:07:52] Oh that’s so cool. Did you get to walk an opening and closing ceremonies and things too?

 

Dana:

[00:07:57] I didn’t. So opening it is like I mean they say what you stand on your feet for like eight hours? And the night before we start competing the next day.

 

Laura:

[00:08:05] Oh you’re the first day? OK.

 

Dana:

[00:08:07] Yeah. So I have not. I actually haven’t ever walked in opening ceremonies.

 

Laura:

[00:08:12] Oh no!

 

Dana:

[00:08:13] But I did get to do closing in 2012. So.

 

Laura:

[00:08:17] Oh good. OK well, we’ve got one in there. That’s good. So what happened after Athens?

 

Dana:

[00:08:23] After Athens and you know it’s part of that identity crisis. You come home you just you were a gold medalist. And then you have to go back to high school. And so I mean half. I did feel like half a high school loved me for what I did. Half a high school seemed to hate me for what I did. And you’re just I don’t know I felt like I was you know I had homeschooled going into that. So I only did one year of high school has actually ended up graduating a year early. And it was just a struggle of who am I as a person. Who am I as this Olympic athlete now at 16years old and how do you make mistakes. How do you figure things out when you feel a little more in the public eye. And you know I took some time off. I actually injured my back at that point when I started coming back from training I had a disk injury and. I just I felt like I was kind of floundering and so I didn’t really know where I was at home. So I decided to graduate a year early and I went off to the University of Florida for my first year of college.

 

Laura:

[00:09:32] So you were like 17 when you went off to college?

 

Dana:

[00:09:34] Yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:09:35] Wow. That’s all so overwhelming I would think.

 

Dana:

[00:09:38] It is another you know it’s a hard step to then also go into college and you’re supposed to be this amazing Olympic athlete. And trying to live up to that every day is sometimes really challenging. And the coach and I just didn’t really see eye to eye. The training program was different than I would like. And so then I ended up transferring over to Cal Berkeley and I loved. I loved the school. I loved the program. The coach and I obviously I still train at Cal Berkeley today. So something’s working. And it was I think going into 2008 I found myself really struggling with other people’s expectations. And or my interpretation of other people’s expectations that I was supposed to qualify for so many events. And you know for the US it’s not just qualifying then you’re expected to medal. And I just I Crum I absolutely crumbled under that. And one event I walked out and I was in tears in my goggles before I even swam the events.

 

Laura:

[00:10:39] Is this about Olympic trials?

 

Dana:

[00:10:40] Olympic trials in 2008. Yeah. And. I miss it. I miss it and every single one of my events one as close as 1100th of a second.

 

Laura:

[00:10:51] Oh that’s so heartbreaking.

 

Dana:

[00:10:53] You can beat yourself up about it all day long. But now I feel like perspective has changed so much that I don’t think I would be the athlete I am today without having gone through 2008.

 

Laura:

[00:11:05] I feel like I hear that a lot. Like it really stinks to go through those moments but it seems to make you stronger and more capable of things later. But like how in that moment of just kind of crumbling under that? Like how did you walk that out and how did you come back from that? You know is it the people around you? Is it you having to change the way you were thinking about stuff? Like what I guess. How did you walk out?

 

Dana:

[00:11:30] Yeah. I mean there are very important people. I went home I stayed at one of my best friends houses that in my hometown in Granbury. And she just kind of helped me with perspective. Her job her kids. And then it was honestly Teri McKeeverand my other coach Milton Nelms. And Teri knew that I couldn’t just go home and sulk. That was not going to help me get through this. And so Milton Nelms actually runs a learn to swim program in Fiji.

 

Laura:

[00:12:04] Oh wow.

 

Dana:

[00:12:04] And they have one of the highest drowning rates in the world for an island nation. And so they. It kind of took me out of my own bubble. They helped me fly to Fiji and we got to teach. It’s kind of like a community college and you teach them how to teach kids how to swim. So they go out into their villages and teach kids how to swim. And it was just amazing to kind of realize it’s not all about Olympic level swimming. I was helping save lives with the knowledge that I already had. I didn’t have to go out and prove anything else about my swimming. That I already had the skills to make other people’s lives better. And it was just an absolutely incredible experience to be helping them. But then it was still that place when I thought about my own swimming. It was like an instant weight on my chest of how am I supposed to come back? How do I face the team? How do I face my coach? How do I come back to training in a way that I want to? And we actually did an open water race when I was in Fiji. It was at 18K relay from one island to another. You could see fish and coral and I mean it was beautiful. And to me, that was the moment when I realized that I still love the water. I love to swim. And that was the core of it. And what I really needed to work on was the mental side of the sport.

 

Laura:

[00:13:27] I love that you just like you said got out of your bubble. Did something. Saw that there was more to this whole swimming thing than just your races. And then kind of recaptured that love and that passion for it. That’s so awesome. And so things did change. Going into London. I mean you went into the 2012 London Olympics and walked away with three gold medals and two world records. I’m guessing that was a little bit different of an experience.

 

Dana:

[00:13:51] Yes. Yes. completely. I mean there’s so much work that we put in in those 4years. And to make me feel like almost a different woman walking out for the 2012 Olympic trials and we explored nutrition. It turned out that I had many food sensitivities that were really hindering my training and my recovery and then the mental side of it.

 

Laura:

[00:14:12] How interesting.

 

Dana:

[00:14:15] I actually enjoyed seeing a normal therapist. Not a sports psychologist. I always felt like they somehow were trying to just get me to race better. And it was nice to just really take a look at my entire life. That everything impacts how you train how you race and all areas need to be happy. To be the best athlete that we can be. And I got married in 2011 to my husband and.

 

Laura:

[00:14:42] He’s a swimmer too right?

 

Dana:

[00:14:43] He was young he swam for Stanford. He also just missed the Olympic team in 2008. So I think that was a good bonding place for us to find strength together. And. Yeah. It just walking out there you know some of the sports psychology training though was like you have set yourself up to where if you have a terrible race you’re still making an Olympic team. And that was kind of our motto in training was that it’s it’s not that I need to expect way more of myself than I’ve ever done to make an Olympic team. It’s like OK if I have a cold I can still do this I can still get up and make this team. And yeah I mean even at the Olympics when I walked out. I was like OK Just swim your own race. Just try not to screw anything up and we should be good.

 

Laura:

[00:15:34] And you were. I mean did you three gold medals and you already had a gold medal so you have four gold medals now. I mean did you think about retiring at that point?

 

Dana:

[00:15:43] It’s always one of those really hard things where. Honestly leading up to 2012? Yes. I assumed that I was done after 2012 I wanted to go out with a bang and go out at the pinnacle of your career. And then it’s always one of those how do you retire when you’re at the top of your game? Like you just had the best performance you’ve ever had in your life. And now you’re supposed to walk away? And so that was hard. Not really hard because I was just so excited after winning three golds to just get back in it and train. And then it kind of dawns on you that OK it is another four years. And the time commitment is huge. The effort level is huge. You can’t just kind of skirt by on what you’ve done before and expect to make an Olympic team. And I was able to make the world championships team that next summer. But I kind of been dealing with shoulder issues the back injury had never fully gone away. So at that point, I did decide quote-unquote “to retire?” because I didn’t actually sign my retirement papers. Part of me just could never sign the actual papers. So Teri told me to just go with that something in me might not be done and let’s just respect that.

 

[00:16:51] So I stepped away from the sport. Decided I wanted to see what life was like as not a competitive athlete. I went to school for architecture and design. We bought a house in the suburbs and decided that we wanted to start our family. And so yeah in 2015 my youngest or my oldest now Arlen was born. And it wasn’t a very interesting process of being pregnant as you know. I can’t say I’m one that loved being pregnant. I felt very out of control with my body and we ended up being on bed rest for eight weeks and.

 

Laura:

[00:17:31] Oh my that’s a long time.

 

Dana:

[00:17:33] Yeah. Yeah. I made it through like all ten seasons of Friends. I honestly I think that that was when I decided to train again. Because I could not imagine another day of sitting in my bed.

 

Laura:

[00:17:46] Wow. So you hadn’t been training for a while?

 

Dana:

[00:17:49] No.

 

Laura:

[00:17:49] You’re Pregnant. You’re on bed rest. And you’re like I have got to get back in the water.

 

Dana:

[00:17:53] Yeah. well I mean that’s the only way that I really know how to get back in shape and how to push myself. I’ve never been a runner.

 

Laura:

[00:18:00] So then it was. It just kind of I’m going to get back in the water just to get back in shape after this or you want to do like compete?

 

Dana:

[00:18:06] Yeah. Well, I don’t think I knew how to separate the two yet. I need to have a big goal to get myself to kind of do the daily grind of training.

 

Laura:

[00:18:15] Totally relate to that. Yeah.

 

Dana:

[00:18:16] Yeah. So basically I set that goal OK let’s see if I can make the 2016 Olympic team. I mean that’s right around the corner. But it was obviously a huge goal and it kept me going to get up in the mornings and to push myself. But deep down I think what really helped me through the process was yeah that was a big goal. But the ultimate goal was to be the best mom that I could be. To feel in control of my body. To get back in shape to have the lifestyle of running around with the boys that I want to have. And I think that’s what made it to me that one of the healthiest places for me that I’ve ever been in the sport. It wasn’t necessarily about the goal it was about the daily lifestyle that I wanted to have.

 

Laura:

[00:19:05] Oh that’s so cool. So then what. I mean because you ended up making the Rio team and what was it like going to an Olympics this time with a toddler in tow?

 

Dana:

[00:19:15] Well I wish he honestly. I wish he was more in tow than he was allowed to be. And so that that was actually really hard. Of course, on one hand, I’m thrilled. I was absolutely stoked. I made an Olympic team. I got to compete again. But then it’s also you know there hadn’t been many moms in the sport of swimming yet. So training camp technically he wasn’t allowed to be at training camp. And I had to sit down with the coaches and with USA Swimming staff and talk about like I can’t do that. I can’t just go away for a month and leave my child. And so at first, it was agreed that he should come for two weekends. Which was even obviously daunting to me at the time too. I mean I literally was never by myself.

 

Laura:

[00:19:58] Right. And it’s like an appendage right? Like you’re missing an arm or something walking in there without them. Yeah.

 

Dana:

[00:20:04] A huge piece of my heart was gone. And to be in a hotel room by myself and then go to training with girls that I hadn’t trained with before. With coaches, I hadn’t worked with before. My. Like the person that does my weights isn’t allowed to be there. The massage person like they have an Olympic staff that kind of starts to take care of everything. But it was an incredibly lonely place to be. And it was a really hard trying to balance that. This side of me that just missed my family so much. And this daily routine that I had developed that I had loved. And to kind of have to create an absolutely new one for 2016 Olympic Games. I mean the Olympics is the biggest meet that you get to go to. And I had to completely change what I had done to get there. And a.

 

Laura:

[00:20:58] And like a limited amount of time too. Right?

 

Dana:

[00:21:00] Yeah. Yeah. We only have four weeks between the Olympic trials and the Olympics. And honestly, before being a mom I would have said like oh it’s only four weeks of your life. Like you can go you can be with the team and just fully commit. And then you get to go home and be with your family. Four weeks is just a really long time to be away from your kids. And so it is a goal of mine going in 2020 to better work with USA Swimming. I feel like they will. I think like you said it was just such a short time span to try to figure out how we make this work. About how I can see more of the kids and have more of my support system there for me going into 2020.

 

Laura:

[00:21:41] That’s great. So I mean you won a gold silver and a bronze in Rio right?

 

Dana:

[00:21:47] Yeah. I mean I just wanted to get the trifecta.

 

Laura:

[00:21:49] Yeah. There you go. Yeah.

 

Dana:

[00:21:50] I mean one of everything.

 

Laura:

[00:21:52] I mean this is incredible so you had four weeks. You revamped your entire routine. You’re flying solo. It was hard. And you were still so successful. I mean did you just keep going after that? Or did you. Because I know now you have your son Ryker who was born in 2017 right? Was the plan to keep going after this again? Or you know. How is this? What are logistics like here?

 

Dana:

[00:22:14] Yeah. I mean it’s again I feel like it’s a cycle every four years. Again I was successful in 2016 and I had created more of a daily life that I loved. Like going in after Arlen was born and it just felt so much healthier of a routine of a lifestyle of a focus. It wasn’t just pushed my body till it breaks because that’s what you have to do. I learned a lot more about recovery and it just felt like a lifestyle that I could sustain. So I figured why not. Why not try and so I trained. From after 2016, I did train through being pregnant with Ryker. I actually swam at a swim meet when I was 28 pregnant.

 

Laura:

[00:22:56] Oh my Goodness! Wow.

 

Dana:

[00:22:58] That was obviously much more for just the joy and fun of racing than the actual time.

 

Laura:

[00:23:05] Right.

 

Dana:

[00:23:06] But I enjoyed it. We got to do a Gender reveal with what color suit I wore.

 

Laura:

[00:23:10] Oh that’s so fun.

 

Dana:

[00:23:11] So it was yeah it was really fun. And then I actually ended up having the same contractions that started at 30 weeks that they did with my first child with Arlen. But this time they didn’t want me on bed rest. They just wanted me to have limited activity but not actually be in my bed like I was before. And so it’s a little scary that time just being moving around a lot more and having all the contractions. Just trying to listen to my doctors and Ryker came at 37 weeks. So Arlen was at 41. And so he was just as tall as Arlen but hadn’t really gotten to put on all that baby fat yet so it just seems so little at first. But then honestly it’s different with two. And I can’t imagine with you having four and trying to train.

 

Laura:

[00:24:03] I know. Crazy. For crazy people.

 

Dana:

[00:24:07] But you know I think I expected it to be the same. I think I put more almost more expectations on myself that here.

 

Laura:

[00:24:14] Coz you’ve done it once.

 

Dana:

[00:24:15] Yeah I had done it before. It’s supposed to be the same. And now I know and so it’s supposed to be easier. That is so not true.

 

Laura:

[00:24:22] Yeah. My first child slept through the night. And people just laughed at me and they’re like Oh wait till you have a second line. Yeah. She didn’t sleep through the night at all. So yeah.

 

Dana:

[00:24:31] Yeah. And so of course it was like my older ones stopped napping as soon as the second one was born. And well you know just being up again and nursing. And then not getting to nap when he naps because the older one was awake. And trying to figure out how to get groceries in my house with two kids. And it’s. There’s been a whole new set of challenges. And honestly, I feel like just this past fall I’ve really kind of gotten more of a routine and figured out more of what I how I’m gonna make this work.

 

Laura:

[00:25:03] That’s great. That’s great. Now I know on your website you said you found a new love for something. I think we’ve heard a little bit about that and you said for years you let it define your life through your success or failure in the pool. But now it’s your family that matters most. I know you went to Fiji rekindle that and now you have your family. Like I guess how do you ever still get kind of bogged down or caught back up in that? I feel like we go through these seasons right? You kind of get it figured out and you think you’re in a good place then you get kind of sucked back into that. Like you know that mindset where your result defined you. Like how do you check that how do you keep that at bay?

 

Dana:

[00:25:37] Yeah. I feel like it’s it’s not just something that you master. And it doesn’t happen again like you said. Honestly, it’s something that I feel come back before every competition and I have to work on that. It’s like where do people expect me to be at this point. How do I prove the training that I’ve done that it’s working? And how do I show that I can do this as a mom? And it’s now I have to step back and you know this is about my journey. Like this is about just racing and figuring things out and figuring out what I love about still being in the sport. And it is a conscious reminder of having to let go of what I think other people are expecting of me. But I mean it’s work. That’s something that you have to be kind to train yourself to catch yourself in those mind brains. And to bring yourself back from that. But yeah it’s not like I’ve just figured it out. It’s something that I still work on and honestly you know it was Ryker was probably six months old. And I went to the Austin Grand Prix in January. And I had been kind of training a much smaller amount but I still felt fast. And it’s one of those in your mind you always think like oh I got this and.

 

Laura:

[00:26:51] I love your self-confidence. It’s awesome. I love it.

 

Dana:

[00:26:54] I went to a competition and it was one of those kinds of like rude awakenings of just you know hey I do love the sport. I haven’t been able to get as much training. And it’s one thing to just think you can stand up and perform with the best in the country. But that is something that takes a lot of dedication. A lot of hours. A lot of training. And I did let that get to me. And I didn’t know what to kids why I was fighting so hard to make an Olympic team. You know I still struggling with kind of how 2016 went for me mentally. Like was I ready to go through that again being away from my family being away from my own support system? And then so I did end up taking some time away. And I was just working on strength training trying to figure out the training pieces that I really enjoyed. And that was when I saw it’s actually on Instagram that Jeanette Ottesen a swimmer from Denmark. A butterflier that’s been in almost every international competition final with me in the Butterfly was having a baby girl and wanted to train for 2020. And it just felt like I just instantly had this bond with her and I mean we were friendly.

 

[00:28:10] I can’t say we were very close friends but I mean we talked to competitions. And I instantly wrote her on Instagram as like I need to come to Denmark but can I please bring my boys? Can I come train with you? Can we try to figure out how moms train in this sport together? And it was just so inspiring for me to have another person that got it. And to get on that pool deck and talk to each other. How’d you sleep last night? Were your kids up all night? Were you stressed about this or that? And Do you have the power to change our training ourselves? And create what we wanted and each workout. And to talk about the hardships of getting stability back in your hits and getting your abs back. All these things that just your body changes so much and to have another person that was right there with me just meant the world to me. And that was when I started the movement to the power of mom. And I just really started looking at other athletes and other athletes stories. And how they manage dealing with kids and training. And being so inspired by all these other women that were also doing it and feeling like I wasn’t so alone. Like we need we need to have a stronger voice and be heard by each other even to help motivate each other when it’s hard.

 

Laura:

[00:29:28] And I love it. I mean I’ve followed you for a long time. But when I saw you start that power of mom thing it just it hit me. Because I feel very isolated like I totally understand what you’re talking about because divers there tend to be younger. When I retired at 30 I was considered old and I didn’t have kids or anything at that point. Now I’m here 10years older and four kids you know it’s definitely not something anybody else is doing. And so to see that other people are doing that it makes you feel like you’re not a crazy person. Like it’s OK to have dreams. It’s OK to be a mom and do these things and in fact, you can be even better. You know it’s just so nice I’m so thankful that you created something and it is gonna make a big difference for so many of us.

 

Dana:

[00:30:04] Yeah I mean there’s nothing worse than feeling lonely an isolated. And we find strength in each other. I find strength in your story. I find strength in Serena Williams. And Allyson Felix just having her little one. And it’ll be amazing to have all of us chasing this dream together.

 

Laura:

[00:30:23] Yes I love it. You had your hashtag was Mama on a mission in 2016 and now it’s to the power of mom. I love it. So what’s next on your road to Tokyo 2020? I mean obviously, there’s going to be competitions in between that. And are there any plans following Tokyo? More kids more swimming other adventures. Like what’s on the plate for you?

 

Dana:

[00:30:43] So I just got back from a competition in Knoxville Tennessee earlier in January. And it’s just kind of one of those there’s the tier Pro Series circuit there’s kind of a meet every month almost. And it’s just kind of seeing where I’m at in training. Seeing what falls apart. What is feeling really strong? Continue to focus on that one reason why I think I’m still in the sport today is just that I know that there is a faster butterfly. It’s not just that I need to train harder or more hours. It’s like the physics of how we swim butterfly. I think we’re still figuring out how to do it. And I love the learning process and the challenging to think outside the box. And technique and training. And I will be going to Tasmania for a training trip again. I’ve actually gone a couple of times so that’s where the coach Milton Nelms and his amazing wife Shane Gould. She’s a multi Olympian for Australia for swimming. And so that’s where they live. And so we end up doing an Airbnb down there and we train in the ocean all the time. There is not a pool where you train in the way.

 

Laura:

[00:31:51] Is it freezing?

 

Dana:

[00:31:53] It is. I do have a wetsuit that I wear. I do get an occasionally just in my swimsuit just because the wetsuit does change your buoyancy and how you feel. So I try to challenge myself from time to time to get in. But as a swimmer, I do have a deep hatred of cold water.

 

Laura:

[00:32:12] I hear that from a lot of stories.

 

Dana:

[00:32:14] Yeah. Yeah the most of us. So I have the wetsuit on a lot. But we’re really excited that Jeanette Ottesen and her husband and her little girl Billy nay are also going to come.

 

Laura:

[00:32:25] Oh so is your whole family going too?

 

Dana:

[00:32:27] My whole family is coming. My husband two boys and a friend of ours that’s going to help us with the boys. And yeah. And then her and Jeanette and her husband and little girl and then she has two people that are coming with her as well.

 

Laura:

[00:32:41] That’s so cool. That’ll be wonderful.

 

Dana:

[00:32:43] Yeah. Yeah. So really excited about that. That’s always a really good chunk of training. A lot of times I do it February before an Olympic year is a kind of always when I’ve done it before. And just feeling like my training needed a boost right now and kind of getting back into the sport. And I’ve loved this trip and it’s always kind of brought the best out of me and my family. My husband has some of his favorite memories are on these trips. And so getting setup for that. And then August will actually be my next major goal that’s Nationals it’ll be at Stanford just an hour away. So that’ll be nice won’t have to travel really for that. And then we start entering into 2020. I mean there’ll be winter nationals in December and then the same tier Pro Series circuit in 2020. And so honestly my main focus is just kind of at each meet to hopefully each chipping away at little things. Even if that doesn’t necessarily show up in my time it better turns. It’s it’s starting to feel that pieces of the race I want to have at Olympic trials in 2020. Start to have those pieces show up now.

 

Laura:

[00:33:46] That’s great. I love the plan. Okay, so where can we follow you online to continue to just be inspired and encouraged by you? And also so we can cheer you on toward Tokyo?

 

Dana:

[00:33:55] You can follow me on Instagram is the main one @Dana.Vollmer and @DanaVollmer.com.

 

Laura:

[00:34:06] Awesome thank you so much Dana for coming on. I love your story. Obviously, I feel very connected because of the mom component. We’re still training but you’re absolutely awesome and we thank you for your time.

 

Dana:

[00:34:17] Yes definitely. Hopefully, we will be together on that 2020 team.

 

Laura:

[00:34:24] Such great wisdom from Dana today. I love how when the pressure became all too much. It was that trip to Fiji that really helped her reset. A few weeks ago we hadDr. Ben Holtzberg on our show and he told us the best way to shift to a purpose based mindset is to find ways to serve others outside of ourselves. And Dana has clearly discovered that. As she expresses is so important to continually keep our perspectives in check. When we feel overwhelmed by the pressures of other people’s expectations. We have to remember who we are and why we love to do what we do and let everything else just fade away. Along those lines, I wanted to let you guys know about something coming up over the next few weeks that I have been working like crazy on and I’m super excited to tell you about. Have you ever been anxious going into a competition or felt like you won the warm-up but not the meet or maybe you just don’t understand why you don’t perform when it counts but you do in practice? If that sounds like you then listen up. I’ve designed an online course that is just for you. I’m going to teach you the most crucial mental skills that I’ve acquired over my 20 plus years as an elite athlete. I’m going to walk you step by step through the process that will help you optimize your performance and set you up for success. If you’re ready for change and you want the skills to take your performance to the next level then I want you to head on over to LauraWilkinson.com/performance and sign up so you’ll be the first to know when this course is available. And when you sign up I’m going to send you my list of the five things that you can do today to become a more confident competitor. So head on over to LauraWilkinson.com/performance. Next week we have legendary speed skater Dan Jansen on the show with us. Dan clinched Olympic gold in the final race of his career and dedicated that victory to his sister who died just hours before his event in a previous Olympic Games. His story is one of incredible dedication and determination and I’m so excited to share it with you next week. Be sure to hit the subscribe button wherever you’re listening so you don’t miss a single episode and remember to leave us a review because that helps us to keep bringing on these awesome guests. I’m Laura Wilkinson. Thanks again for listening. This podcast is produced by Evo Terra and simpler media. For more information on Hope sports and access to the complete archives please visit HopeSports.org