Dana Vollmer - You Gotta Have Heart

By Caroline Ogawa, Daily Cal Contributing Writer
This story was originally published in the Daily Californian on Tuesday, February 12, 2008.
Click here for original version.

Reprinted by permission.

When college athletes transfer schools, they are usually looking for a coach more suited to individual needs, a different team dynamic or a training regiment designed to maximize results.

Junior Dana Vollmer got all of these and the bonus of a clean bill of health when she joined the Cal women's swimming team after her freshman year.

Almost five years ago, Vollmer was a high school Olympic hopeful in Granbury, Texas, when she noticed that her heart rate would not slow down after races.

'A couple years ago, I had to have surgery to correct my quickened heart rate, and when we went to the doctor, they found that I had signs of Long QT (Syndrome),' says Vollmer. 'It is when you have an electrical circuit in your heart that causes irregular beats.'

Long QT syndrome can cause fainting, cardiac arrest and even sudden death. This medical diagnosis would be an immense load for any 15-year-old to carry, but Vollmer didn't let it stop her from getting back into the water.

Her mother carried a portable defibrillator to every meet as a precaution, but Vollmer kept the medical machine out of sight and out of mind.

'I had never shown symptoms before, so I just forgot about it and acted like there was nothing wrong,' says Vollmer. 'My mom was much more worried than I was, she was the one who had to carry around the defibrillator to all of my meets-I never touched the thing.

'I think that because I was also younger they didn't tell me everything and hid some things. No matter what, I wanted to race, so I just pretended everything was fine.'

And to the rest of the world, she looked like any other up-and-coming swimmer.

Vollmer was the youngest competitor in the 2000 Olympic trials, and in 2003 she earned three gold medals in the Pan American Games.

Most notably, in her first Olympic appearance at the Athens Olympics in 2004, she won a gold medal and set a world record in the 800-meter freestyle relay.

And she accomplished all of this with her mother in the stands with the defibrillator-ready to run to her daughter's side at the sign of any complications, but hoping that she would never have the chance to use it.

Now the world is getting to see what Vollmer can accomplish without the extra burden.

After her freshman year in college, and three years after being diagnosed, Vollmer was relieved that she no longer showed signs of Long QT.

'I had a check-up and some tests when I came to Cal, and they all came back clean,' says Vollmer. 'I was fine.'

After only one complete season with the Bears, Vollmer won three national crowns, set three American records and was named an All-American in six events.

To think, in her senior year of high school, she didn't intend to come to Cal.

Vollmer started off her career at Florida, but after one season she knew the Gators would not bring out her full potential.

'My senior year (in high school) I was looking for different things and I thought that more training was better,' says Vollmer. 'Also, when I came to Cal I saw people studying and I knew that it was a very academic school. I saw a lot of parties and fun on my visit to Florida, and that swayed me.'

While at the NCAA championships her freshman year, Vollmer longingly watched the finals from the pool deck. She was envious of the camaraderie of the Cal squad

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