Inspiring Women: Olympian Dana Vollmer Talks Heart Health And Family Life
The 5-time gold medalist tells us why it's so important to take care of your ticker.
It's easy to think about being healthy in terms of day-to-day "little" things — like getting enough sleep, being active, and, this winter, not getting the flu. But it's also incredibly important to always be thinking about long-term health, especially when it comes to your heart. After all, 80% of heart disease is actually preventable.
Dana Vollmer, five-time US Olympic gold medalist, is a champion in the pool and champions heart health as well, after she was diagnosed with a condition years ago that could have prevented her from becoming a highly decorated athlete. Now Vollmer has teamed up with CVS Health, a National sponsor of the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women movement, to spread the word about how you can make sure your own family stays heart healthy. Here's what she had to say about being a mom, her future Olympic dreams, and more.
Could you tell us about your dedication to heart health and why it's a cause that matters to you? Why should it matter to all women?
Dana Vollmer: At age 14, I was diagnosed with the symptoms of a cardiac electrical disorder. In 2012, I was cleared of the heart condition that might have ended my Olympic dreams. Now as a busy mom who is also balancing training for the 2020 Olympics, it’s so important for me to work with the American Heart Association and CVS Health to share my story with other women to hopefully spread awareness that heart disease is a prevalent condition that must be taken seriously.
Heart health should matter to all women because 80% of heart disease is preventable with the appropriate lifestyle and eating habits – a striking stat that will hopefully empower women to take control of their own heart health.
Please share some ways in which moms can be sure that their families are doing heart-healthy activities/diets etc.
DV: I always recommend that moms incorporate their whole family into fun exercises and healthy habits like going to the park, family hikes and swimming. Kids learn from their parents so setting a good example early on, like teaching them to try a wide variety of healthy veggies and proteins and finding an exercise or sport they enjoy, will stay with them for the rest of their lives and put them on a good track for a healthy heart in the future.
What is your biggest achievement and why?
DV: Winning gold and setting a new world record in the 2012 Olympics was my biggest achievement. But to be able to get to that point, I had to create a lifestyle of eating healthy, physically fit and dedication to my sport. Now, as a mom, I try to instill this motivation in my children and hope that they see the importance of incorporating healthy habits into our daily routines. With a good foundation, you’re more likely to be able to achieve anything you set your heart to.
Did becoming a mom change your views on your own health and wellness?
DV: Definitely. I now have two beautiful children who depend on me so it’s important that I am always setting a good example for them by taking care of my own health and teaching them important lifestyle habits of their own. I also want to be there for them as they grow into adult themselves, which is why keeping track of my numbers and having regular check-ups is so important. One way that I do this is by visiting MinuteClinic for a no cost heart health screening in February, but CVS Health and MinuteClinic are also a convenient and affordable resource for my family all year long.
How has having kids impacted your career? What is your advice for other moms who are efforting work-life balance?
DV: It’s all about finding what makes you happy and finding a routine that works for you and your family. For example, my training looks very different since having kids. Since I have less time in the pool than I used to, I have to be more focused and more dedicated while I’m training, which then allows me to spend more hours enjoying time at home with my family and children. The work-life balance can definitely be a challenge, and is always a work in progress but I’ve learned that the same advice doesn’t work for each mother, so don’t listen to those who doubt you or tell you you have to do something in a certain way.
What is your favorite part of the day?
DV: Every day when I pick up my three year old son from preschool, we find a fun activity to do like crafting and painting, going to the playground, going for bike rides and walks. It allows me to spend quality time with him and watch him grow older by the day, as well as inspires me to be creative and find new and engaging activities for us to do together.
Could you tell us about a time you thought about throwing in the towel but carried on?
DV: When my second son was three months old, I began training again but he was always waking up to feed, so my 4:30 a.m. alarm became daunting. At the same time, my three year old gave up naps in the afternoon, and I felt like training was running me ragged. I took a step back from the intense workouts and went to the pool on my own time when it fit in with my family’s schedule, which made my training more manageable and enjoyable while we went through the difficult transition with our kids. While I want to continue swimming competitively for as long as possible, I am a mom first and foremost and their needs now come before mine. However, with patience and ingenuity, I was able to find a way to make it work for all of us.
At Livingly, our motto is "Live life beautifully." What does living beautifully mean to you?
DV: To me, living life beautifully means finding happiness in all of my day to day life, including appreciating all of life’s little tasks and moments, even the ones that seem challenging at the time.