MESA, Ariz. — Dana Vollmer finished 55th in the 50-meter freestyle at the Arena Pro Swim Meet here Friday, finishing is 27.59 seconds.
For an Olympic gold medalist, that’s pretty poor. But it might have been a world record for a tandem swim.
Vollmer swam the race while six-months pregnant with her second child, a boy due in July. (She broke the news of the sex of the child right before the race by her choice of Tyr racing suit, having said it would be pink for a girl and green for a boy.) Last year she competed for the U.S. Olympic team 15 months after giving birth to her oldest child, Arlen, but this was another challenge entirely.
The 29-year-old Vollmer was a startling sight climbing on the starting block, big and bulbous amid a field of lean and ripped competitors. Her dive into the pool was nothing explosive – “just don’t belly flop” was her doctor’s advice – and she took four or five breaths over the course of race where she would normally take one.
But she also again served as testament that a mother can be every bit as active and ambitious as a woman without children. The inspiration she offered last year while racing to Rio was redoubled here Friday by racing while very pregnant.
“I really had no idea what I could do,” Vollmer said, all smiles afterward. “This was the first time 50 [meters] felt long in my life.
“Time didn’t matter. Place didn’t matter. I loved being here. The race felt great.”
Vollmer normally wears a size-26 racing suit, but she wore a 32 here to accommodate her stowaway passenger. The customary, super-tight fit was not a realistic option.
“It feels fine,” she said. “Holds everything in.”
Doctors have long advocated women stay active during pregnancy. But there is a difference between working out and competing.
Why come here and compete?
“It’s not about awards, it’s not about medals,” she said. “I love competing. If I can fit it in with my family, why wouldn’t I do that? Putting the health of the baby first doesn’t mean sitting on the couch.
“I love coming to meets. I love the social aspect, being here in warm-ups with all my national team members. Getting up there was really exciting. It keeps me wanting more.”
Vollmer said her plan is definitely to train toward the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. She has been judicious in her training while pregnant, avoiding underwater drills that necessitate long breath-holding and would decrease oxygen to the baby. But she will keep working out in an effort to stay in better shape than the last time she had a baby, and has a goal of returning to full-scale competition post-delivery by summer nationals in 2018.
“I’ll have way more time this time going toward Tokyo,” she said.
A fourth Olympic appearance would extend a remarkable career after making the U.S. team in 2004, ’12 and ’16.
In ’04 she was a phenom, making the Olympic team at age 16 and winning a gold medal as a member of the 800-meter freestyle relay team. She missed the team in ’08, ransacked by pressure at Olympic Trials, but bounced back to have the best year of her career four years later – winning three gold medals and setting the world record in the 100 butterfly at the London Games.
After that, Vollmer took two years off with the pregnancy and birth of Arlen Grant. She launched a comeback with her California Aquatics team in 2015 with a new entourage following her around the pool deck leading up to the ’16 Olympic Trials – husband Andy, a nanny and Arlen.
The comeback exceeded expectations, starting in earnest at this same Mesa Arena Pro meet last year. That’s when it became obvious that Vollmer would be a major player in the butterfly and sprint freestyle events. She again made the team and came home from Rio with one gold (400 medley relay), one silver (400 freestyle relay) and one bronze (100 butterfly).
“I found a better balance [swimming after Arlen’s birth],” Vollmer said. “My life had always just been swimming. Arlen gave me better perspective.
“Now, swimming is my ‘me’ time. I’m really, really loving it again.”
Despite the joy of competing, this 50 freestyle likely will be it for Vollmer for quite some time. She joked about possibly competing at the Arena Pro meet at Santa Clara in June – there would be no diving off a starting block for that, just a push start off the wall, which is not an ideal way to race.
But just being at Mesa and racing one more time before child No. 2 was another groundbreaking experience for Super Mom Dana Vollmer.
“If I could always be at a meet, I would be,” she said. “This is the reward for training. I’m loving it.”