By Greg Echlin//Contributor | Monday, August 26, 2019
Leading into her last race as a competitive swimmer, Dana Vollmer reflected a lot on what has been and what’s about to unfold.
She feels good about both.
Vollmer announced before the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships last August in Palo Alto that she was ready to walk away from competition after her last 100M butterfly. She ended up emerging from the pool for the last time in a preliminary heat after her time (59.94) fell short of making it to the final.
“I gave myself a lot of time, a lot of searching for my own motivations, what I wanted to do, and I feel really at peace that this was the right decision for me,” said Vollmer a few hours after her final race, before the Texas native went to Danville, California, where she’s settled.
Cal women’s coach Teri McKeever, accompanied the USA women’s team to the FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, while Vollmer trained at the Cal pool in Berkeley the final days leading up to the nationals, but was on hand to see Vollmer’s last race in nearby Palo Alto.
“(She’s) done some things that nobody’s been able to do, and I think she’s leaving on her terms,” said McKeever, who has known Vollmer since she was 13 and both traveled overseas for the 2001 Goodwill games. “What an awesome way for that to conclude!”
When the national championships ended, Vollmer’s meet record in the 100 fly (56.42), set on the first day of the 2012 Olympic trials, held up, along with her American record (55.98), which she set at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Vollmer has also won four Olympic relay gold medals.
But Vollmer is braced to see both 100 fly records fall. Kelsi (Worrell) Dahlia won Nationals in the 100 fly after returning from winning a gold medal in the 400m medley relay at the FINA World Championships with Regan Smith, Lilly King and Simone Manuel in a world record time (3:50.40).
From Vollmer’s view, it’s inevitable that Dahlia will one of the prime candidates to surpass her record.
“I told Kelsi, ‘I’m on board. You go get that. I’ll be so proud of you when you break that American record,’” said Vollmer, who turns 32 on Nov. 13. “I only want the best for all of them.”
Vollmer foresees a bright future for the butterfly and other up-and-coming swimmers competing to make the USA Olympic team in 2020.
“We’re going to be strong. You could just see it. There are so many who are stepping up,” she said. “A lot of young ones. Regan Smith. Holy cow! That was just absolutely incredible to watch.”
Smith, who set three world records in Gwangju, finished second to Stanford senior Katie Drabot in the 200 fly, a bronze medalist at the World Championships, at the TYR Pro Swim Series stop in Bloomington, Indiana. Boglarka Kapas of Hungary won the 200 fly world championship with 2016 Olympian Hali Flickenger winning the silver.
“We’re seeing records that we thought would stand for a while not stand anymore.,” said Vollmer. “I knew when the 100 fly record was set that it wasn’t going to stand very long. I was determined to break that.”
She added, “Now we’re seeing all the other supersuit era records fall. We have such strong people, and I know that they’re all in that stage of heavy preparation right now.”
Vollmer also reached a milestone with her Olympic gold medal in the 400 medley relay in Rio. She became the first U.S. swimming mom to capture gold after her first son, Arlen, was born in March, 2015.
Even today, Vollmer finds it difficult to describe when looking back at it in retrospect.
“It was very, very special to get up there (on the podium), and it was only 17 months after Arlen was born. That perspective shift,” Vollmer said. “I loved being at that Olympics for a completely different reason.”
It made an impact on others, too.
“I’ve looked up to Dana for a long time,” said Dahlia after winning the 100 fly final in Palo Alto. “I’m super-proud of her, how she fought as a mom and really paved the way for female athletes in that aspect.”
Vollmer said she took it a step further after observing how Dara Torres, Megan Jendrick and Amanda Beard all handled the dual duties of the balance between being moms and world class swimmers.
“There are moms everywhere now that are really stepping up and showing that we can do this. It takes a village, and you need a lot of support,” said Vollmer. “I’m blessed to have all of those who came before me.”
As far as her own future as the mother of two boys, Vollmer said, “I’m looking forward to this new stage in my life where I get to create, figure out what I want to do. I get to build those (ambitions) and brainstorm on what this next chapter looks like.”McKeever predict that swimming will be no longer than an arm’s length away in Vollmer’s life, “She’s always going to be involved with the sport and making a contribution. It’s just going to be in a different way now.”