When Dana Vollmer lines up for the 100m butterfly at the London Olympics, her parents’ hearts would be pounding more in anticipation than anxiety.
After Vollmer was detected with a heart problem at the age of 15 and needed a defibrillator in case of an emergency, Les and Cathy were more than just watching their daughter swim. In fact, her father used to place himself strategically so that he could rush to Vollmer’s aid in case she gasps for breath.
Not anymore. Vollmer’s pulse rate has settled down and she has started to breathe easy; so have her parents. And the focus is now only on the individual Olympic gold that has eluded her so far.
Vollmer is no stranger to the greatest sporting spectacle on earth. She has even stood on top of the podium at Athens in 2004 when the American quartet smashed a 17-year-old world record in the 200m freestyle relay. Vollmer was just 16 when she experienced the heady feeling of hearing her country’s national anthem at the Olympics.
Her life took a cruel twist when she failed to qualify for the Beijing Games, unbearable pressure and unreasonable expectations weighing her down at the U.S. trials. Thoughts of quitting overwhelmed her before her coach Teri McKeever suggested that she take a break in the island of Fiji.
That visit not only rekindled her passion for swimming, but also helped Vollmer put life and career in perspective. She has not looked back since.
Vollmer won her maiden individual world title in the 2011 championship at Shanghai apart from the 4x100m medley relay gold. Just before heading to the worlds, she was diagnosed with an allergy to eggs, as the doctors finally nailed the reason behind her mysterious stomach aches and dipping energy levels.
Vollmer, who was the youngest ever to compete in the U.S. trials when she was just a dozen years old (she failed to make it to the team, however), booked a ticket to London in style, finishing way ahead of the pack in the 100m butterfly.
The fact that she trained in the ocean down under in February-March, under the watchful eyes of open water swim expert Milt Nelms, made her job easier in the U.S. trials in June. The experience is also expected to come in handy when the 24-year-old hunts for that elusive individual gold in London.
Just by making it to the 2012 Olympics, Vollmer has proved that if one has the heart and the desire, any obstacle can be overcome, even a life-threatening heart condition.