By Greg Echlin//Contributor | Monday, December 2, 2019
The Toyota U.S. Open begins Wednesday, Dec. 4 and will run through Dec. 7. Danielle Herrmann, 32, will be the oldest woman competing this week in the 100m breaststroke, 200m breaststroke and 200m IM. Despite her college eligibility at the University of Kansas being more than a decade behind her, Herrmann just keeps getting faster.
Here’s the story about why this pediatric pharmacist keeps swimming. Check it out, and be sure to follow all the action from the Toyota U.S. Open this week with webcasts here at usaswimming.org and nbcsports.com.
When Danielle Herrmann swims in the Olympic Team Trials in Omaha next July, she concedes being well-below Lilly King’s record-setting standards in the 100-meter breaststroke. But, 10 years removed from her senior season at the University of Kansas, Herrmann is competing among the elite and having the time of her life.
In the women’s field at last summer’s Phillips 66 National Championships at Stanford, only Amanda Weir (33) was older than the 32-year-old Herrmann.
“(I’m) definitely amazed and along for the ride as long as this sport will let me continue to keep dropping time,” said Herrmann, who went under the 1:10 mark (1:09.87) for the first time in her career at last summer’s Nationals in the 100 breast.
Herrmann balances competitive swimming, under coach John McGouh at the Clovis (Cal.) Swim Club, with her full-time job as a pediatric pharmacist at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera, California.
“Having a career has really helped me to take pressure off myself because it’s all about perspective,” said Herrmann. “At work, sometimes it’s about life or death situations. You’re coming up with a medication regimen for a kiddo who’s super, super sick. Then I step out of that world and go to the pool.”
Herrmann’s work schedule varies from working 10-hour shifts four days a week, occasionally pressed into overtime when the pharmacy encounters staffing issues. She’s in the pool every morning, except Sundays, and in the evening works with weights three or four days a week. Her husband, Garen, is a shotput and discus coach at Clovis East HS.
Despite the seemingly long grind through a week, Herrmann welcomes the challenge.
“When I have a really good coaching staff, a really supportive husband and a really supportive family, that makes it easy to keep going,” she said. “Obviously, my work is really supportive, too, to enable me to do both.”
McGough, who normally coaches 14- to 18-year old high school swimmers, is in his sixth year working with Herrmann and has worked with only a few for that length of time.
“It’s been a blast because she is always a pleasant, happy person that just inspires others,” said McGouh.
It wasn’t always a blast when Herrmann swam competitively at KU because she says she felt pressure to swim fast to help her team and qualify for the NCAA championships. “Not meaning to (feel pressure), but subconsciously,” she said. Herrmann felt like she had to have the perfect race to meet the NCAA qualifying standards in the breast and the IM.
Though her NCAA eligibility was up, Herrmann continued to train at KU under coach Clark Campbell while completing her postgraduate work. At the 2012 Olympic trials, she finished 107th in the 100 breast (1:12.87) and retired for about a year. But while in Lawrence, Kansas, she met Garen while contemplating a transition from swimming to competing in a triathlon.
“He’s really big into strength and conditioning. We did a lot of really fun, powerful workouts. I got a lot stronger,” said Herrmann, who grew up in Itasca, Illinois. “He encouraged me to get back into it (swimming). I was like, ‘You’re crazy. There’s no way I can get faster at this point in my career.’”
After the move to Clovis for her residency, Herrmann started out in Masters swimming and exceeded her own expectations in a race, so she hooked up with the Clovis Swim Club and started working under McGouh.
“When people are having fun with what they’re doing, they’re usually pretty good at it,” said McGouh. “She still, at 32, really enjoys the sport and enjoys being at the pool every day.”
Herrmann has discovered a significant step forward at each stage of her swimming career. “High school was a really strong base. (At KU) with Clark, he really worked on my strokes and helped me really refine my breaststroke. (Under McGouh), he helped me refine my underwater pullout.”
In the 2016 Olympic trials, Herrmann finished 78th in the 100 breast (1:11.81). But with her times gradually getting lower, Herrmann has big goals for what is likely her retirement meet in the 2020 trials. Somehow she would like to work her way to the semifinals. “It would be a good way to step out,” she said.
After that? Maybe start a family. But at 32, she has to feel like she’s already around a bunch of kids.
“It’s amazing how fast young swimmers are these days. It’s just so cool to see,” she said.
It’s not hard to imagine the young swimmers feeling the same way about someone who loves the sport as much as Herrmann does.