At one point, 20-year-old swimmer Dagny Knutson wasn't sure whether she would ever publicly share information about her battle with bulimia. After going through treatment, though, the 2011 world champion realized that she wanted to speak out in order to help others.
"When I was struggling really, really bad, I thought that I was the only one who was struggling for some reason, because when you look at our society in general, it's almost frowned upon for people to show their vulnerability," Knutson said during an episode of the Morning Swim Show. "So I was very ashamed of what I was putting myself through, and I realized that there are very, very many people who struggle with an eating disorder or whatever it may be."
Knutson said the realization helped her to gain strength in order to share details about her personal struggle with bulimia. She wants to be a beacon for those who may also be having trouble, she said, and she wants everyone to know that she's "a person who can be reached out to, no matter who you are."
Dagny Knutson, World Champion, Disappears from Swimming
Knutson was a rising star in the swimming community when she seemingly disappeared from the swimming world. As a senior in high school, Knutson was perhaps the most highly-recruited female swimmer in the country. In 2009, as a 17-year-old, Knutson was a member of the 4x200-meter freestyle relay that won silver at the world championship meet. In 2011, she was a part of the same world championship relay that claimed the top spot.
She initially chose to attend Auburn University, but after a coaching change at the university, she decided to move to California and turn professional instead.
The move didn't suit Knutson well, and before long, she'd moved to Florida to train with the Gator Swim Club in Gainesville. There, she swam under coach Gregg Troy with a large group of professional and post-collegiate athletes -- athletes who, like Knutson, dreamed of qualifying for the upcoming Olympic Games.
While she wasn't in the pool, though, Knutson was struggling with the shame and health problems associated with bulimia. In January of 2012, the problem came to a head when Knutson jumped on an airplane and left during the first day of competition of the Austin Grand Prix swim meet. Knutson knew she needed help to deal with her eating disorder, and she knew she had to get away from swimming in order to correct her problem.
Knutson Misses Out on 2012 Olympic Trials, Olympic Games
Because she had entered treatment and quit swimming, Knutson didn't have the opportunity to compete at the 2012 Olympic swimming trials. Though it was known that Knutson would not compete before the meet began, no one really knew exactly why she wouldn't attend. After all, less than two years before, Knutson had been one of the brightest stars in the USA Swimming community. Now, it seemed, she had simply dropped off the face of the earth and decided she didn't want to swim anymore.
That false assumption was another reason Knutson wanted to share her story, she said.
"People were (saying) 'Where's Dagny Knutson? She's not at Olympic trials. What happened to her? She was a world champion and then fell off the face of the earth,'" Knutson said during the Morning Swim Show interview. "So I wanted to explain what I had been going through and it wasn't -- I didn't stop swimming because I thought it was hard. I had very legit reasons and I didn't want to escape from swimming. I just wanted a different approach to swimming and life in general."
Knutson Returns to the Pool
Knutson says she has found that new approach to both life and swimming. After more than six months without any type of physical activity, Knutson returned to her hometown of Minot, N.D., and began training again with her high school coach.
Together, the two traveled to Minneapolis for the Minnesota Grand Prix Nov. 9-11, and Knutson made what she considers to be a triumphant return to the pool. Initially, she had hoped simply to qualify for an 'A' Final heat. Instead, Knutson ended up winning the 200-yard individual medley and finishing second in the 200-yard freestyle and 200-yard butterfly.
She called the meet "very emotional, in a good way," and said she was proud of herself for exceeding her goals by so much. In fact, the meet helped her prove to herself that she's more than just an athlete, she said.
"I don't need the sport of swimming. I'm Dagny the person, not Dagny the swimmer, and I realize I have a lot of better qualities than just swimming," Knutson said during the Morning Swim Show. "That made me feel like I have a god-given talent and I still feel like I have a lot to prove as far as swimming goes."
Up next, Knutson plans to return to the spot where her recovery all began -- Austin, Texas. There, she will compete in the USA Winter Nationals meet in the same pool she fled from earlier this year.
She called the return to the Austin pool a big deal, but it's a challenge she's ready to face, she said.
In fact, she has a new outlook on life, and she's ready to take on many new challenges, she said.
"I'm really thankful for this process … because I feel like I'm a lot wiser and more content after all this has been said and done, so I'm really thankful I even have this opportunity to be back in the water," Knutson said.
Sandra Johnson was a competitive swimmer for more than 15 years before she began coaching. She is a longtime Olympic fan, and while working for the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colo., she had the opportunity to immerse herself in the Olympic Movement. Follow her on Twitter: @SandraJohnson46