The Talking series is a weekly segment that delves into the topics that guests discuss at The Daily Warrior Men’s Journal Podcast.
In 1979, a Colorado doctor tried to save the life of a six-year-old girl who had three types of severe asthma. While his approach was unconventional, he believed that if she spent time in the pool, her lungs would strengthen. He was right. The doctor had no way of knowing that this recommendation sparked a journey that would change the course of sports history. That little girl was a future six-time Olympic gold medalist Amy van Diken. Swimming saved her life and allowed her to make history 17 years later as the first American woman to win four gold medals in a single Olympic Games.
An Olympic Hall of Fame swimmer recently joined us on the men’s daily podcast from Everyday Warrior magazine. This article explores her remarkable ability to overcome obstacles and sheds light on her impact on Michael Phelps’ Olympic career.
If you’ve taken the time to do competitive swimming, you know there is such a thing as a perfect swimmer’s body. While some features, such as broad shoulders, strong cores, and pool stamina, are acquired, other characteristics stem from genetics. Excellent swimmers are usually taller than average, have long torsos, and have a greater concentration of fast-twitch muscle fibers. This genetic component gives people the impression that champion swimmers are born, not made. It’s also a convenient excuse for those who don’t want to do the work. The only real difference is that great swimmers are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve success. They show up early and stay late, swimming countless laps, sacrificing every ounce of themselves for the dream of representing their nation on the world stage.
Van Dyken, who couldn’t swim even 12 laps, proved that greatness is all about the heart. “When I started [swimming competitively]’I was stuck on the line of the driveway gasping for air,’ she says. Several times during those early years, paramedics pulled her out of the pool because her lips had turned blue. Although it was easy for her to quit and blame her physical limitations, Except that’s not what a person with a heart does.In fact, Van Dyken knew she was a hero long before she let the world into her secret.
Van Dicken was an all-American who set five school records and two government records in high school. She was named Colorado’s Swimmer of the Year in 1991 and qualified for the 1992 Olympic Trials. She accomplished all this while battling limited lung capacity and the problem so many students had, “I was bullied really hard in high school,” she says. Like every other adversity in her life, Van Dyken has weathered her high school years. Then in 1994, after attending the University of Arizona for two years, she moved to Colorado. While there, she broke the national record in the 50-meter freestyle and was named Swimmer of the Year by the NCAA.
Unless you’re an avid swimmer, you wouldn’t know who Van Dyken was in 1995—but by the summer of 1996, she was a household name. That was when she became the first female athlete (in any sport) to win four gold medals in a single course, which she accomplished with a lung capacity of just 63 percent. In 2000, after winning two more gold medals in Sydney, Van Dyken retired from the sport she had spent her life pursuing.
In 2014, Van Dyken faced the biggest challenge of her life when she had a severe ATV accident that paralyzed her from the waist down. Like everything else in life, I faced it with incredible force. Van Dyken says that after the accident, her mindset was, “I don’t want to look back, I want to look forward…and help as many people as possible, because that’s not an easy path for anyone.” With the support of her husband, former NLF gambler Tom Rowan, this is what Van Dieken did. Through it all, she never lost her enthusiasm for life or her sense of humor, “You know, I can still wear high heels. They just don’t hurt my feet. I want to show people that I do the same things, but in a different way.”
Why should we thank her…
During the first five minutes of talking to Van Dyken, it’s clear how funny she is. This becomes clear when you say, “Michael Phelps wouldn’t be Michael Phelps without Amy Van Dyken.” While it was still early in the interview, I knew this story was going to be great. Van Dijen continues, “Well [Phelps] He was 15 years old at his first Olympics. I [was] She came out to be the first American woman to win four gold medals…so follow me [asking] Do I wear a swimsuit? Do I need to warm up? Do I need to warm up? So, you’re welcome to wear Michael Phelps a swimsuit and know when to warm up and warm up.”
to go forward
To say Van Decken’s story is inspiring is an understatement. Although she faced obstacles since her birth, they did not allow her to stand in her way. Today, Van Dicken is a motivational speaker who helps others by sharing her struggles and successes. She is truly an incredible person who shows us what it means to live life to the fullest, and how to do it with a heart.
Check out the full conversation with Van Dyken at Men’s Daily Warrior Podcast. Currently available.
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