Kim Vandenberg: Still Swimming Strong


Kim Vandenberg swims in the semifinal of the 200 butterfly at the 2012 Olympic TrialsKim Vandenberg    

By Mike Watkins//Correspondent

Considering all she has going on in her professional and personal life, it’s amazing Kim Vandenberg has any time at all to train and swim.

Still, the 2008 Olympian carves out time in the water for her favorite pastime amidst all of her other activities, and intends to do that even after she calls it a career.

Last fall, she moved to New York to pursue interests outside of swimming, and while she’s still competing, she has become an Ambassador for Up2Us and Kids Play International. Up2Us is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending childhood obesity, reducing youth violence, and improving academic performance through the power of sport. Kids Play International is a non-profit that also uses sport as a catalyst to promote gender equity in communities impacted by genocide.

“Up2Us provides at-risk kids with highly trained coach-mentors who engage them in sports as an alternative to gangs or other destructive behavior,” Vandenberg said. “Kids Play International has the vision of a global community that respects girls and women while providing equity and opportunities for the girls to reach their full potential. Both organizations are incredibly powerful for children, and it's been a big honor for me to be part of such meaningful pursuits.

“I also intern with a photographer, Rebecca Handler, in Brooklyn a few days a week since I have always loved photography and wanted to have firsthand experience in the industry. I am also working with a New York based designer on a swimwear line called Vandeau that should be coming out within the next year. In my spare time, I fit my training in even it means swimming later in the evenings or on Sundays.”

Having been swimming competitively since she was 8, it would be understandable if Vandenberg, who turns 30 later this year, decided to stop training and focused solely on her life outside of the pool.

After all, that’s nearly 22 years of early morning practices, dry land training, watching her diet, meets, travel, etc. But according to Vandenberg, who intends to keep swimming and training competitively at least through the 2016 Olympic Trials, she still loves the sport and finds challenges every time she dives into the water.

“Swimming has always been such an important part of my life, so I know I will always be involved in the sport until the day I die,” Vandenberg said. “I will probably keep competing, eventually at the Master's level for as long as my body can keep up.

“I’m still motivated by the challenge swimming presents – staying active and healthy are such important motivators. I have also been motivated by changing it up in training, this year I experimented with boxing, adding more yoga classes, as well as meditating weekly. I think it's important to mix it up to keep a fresh perspective on the sport.”

That perspective was challenged last summer when Vandenberg went to Omaha expecting to make her second Olympic team (she won silver as a member of the 800 freestyle relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics).

For the second straight Trials, she finished third in her favorite event – the 200 butterfly – and failed to make the team.

She said she took some time to gain perspective, and when the disappointment dissipated, she knew she still had a fire and desire to compete – although it was very difficult for her to watch her friends and teammates in London and then hear stories about their experiences that she wasn’t able to share in.

“Being part of the 2008 team was a dream come true, but it was also a bit bittersweet,” Vandenberg said. “I had been training to qualify in the 200 fly, yet I missed the team by one spot. Thankfully, my freestyle was strong that year, so I qualified in the 200 free for the relay. It was my third Olympic Trials and it was definitely the highlight of my swimming career.

“It was deeply disappointing not to make the team last summer. I expected to qualify in the 200 fly as it was my main focus during training, and I had been feeling strong leading up to the meet. I gave it my all, so I have no regrets, but it was probably my most painful experience I've had in the sport. I decided to keep swimming after that because I wanted to make peace with that disappointment and to simply enjoy the love I have for swimming.”

Vandenberg competed at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships this past June but came up short of making the World Championship team, and then decided, based upon her dissatisfaction with her performance at Nationals not to swim at the U.S. Open.

Having trained on her own over the past year for the first time in her career, Vandenberg said it’s been a challenge but one she’s excited to continue to pursue as she gets closer and closer to what would be her fifth Olympic Trials in less than three years.

“I would characterize my swimming career using the metaphor of a love affair,” said Vandenberg, who grew up with a pool in her backyard and was obsessed with being The Little Mermaid as a child. “I love the sport, but swimming has broken my heart many times when I have had disappointing races or failed to meet certain expectations. Yet, throughout the years, I have fallen back in love with the sport over and over again.

“Swimming has been the constant in my life. I feel comfort when I am in a pool, even in extreme training periods. Of course there have been highs and lows, but I have no regrets.”