Amy Van Dyken
She was the self-described ‘asthmatic weakling.’ The six-year old couldn’t even swim the width of the pool. Amy Van Dyken was also the little girl who wouldn’t take no for an answer. An athlete who never listened when people said, “no, you can’t.” In here very first race, she finished dead last. By the time she’d completed the final race of here career, she’d qualified for her sixth Olympic gold medal.
Amy V. was determined and driven right from the start. She forced her weak lungs to work overtime, and even when asthma attacks left her helpless in the water and she was rushed to the emergency room, she always came back for more. From age-group swimming through Cherry Creek High School, Colorado State, and the Olympics, Van Dyken never settled for second-best.
When she graduated from Cherry Creek, she left with two individual state records and her time in the 100-butterfly was so fast that today, a decade later, it still stands. As she headed off to Arizona for college, here Bruins teammates teased her with the mock achievement certificate ‘most likely to win an Olympic gold medal.’ Little did they know that she could take the challenge to heart.
Van Dyken was a 12-time All American at Arizona, but it wasn’t until she transferred to Colorado State University that she became world-class. Working with legendary coach John Mattos, her junior year set the stage for what was to come. She went undefeated in the 50-freestyle that season, set a new American record (21.77), and won the NCAA title.
After that, there were the Pan American and Pan Pacific gold medals, silver and bronze at the world championships, and a spot on the national residency team at the Olympic training center. From there it was the Olympic trials… two individual firsts, a second, and a new American record in the 50-freestyle.
All of which led her to the Atlanta Olympic Games where she truly became Colorado’s golden girl. 50 free-gold. 100fly-gold. 400-free relay-gold. 400-medley relay-gold. With all of that, she went down in history as the first American woman to ever win four medals in a single Olympics, and came home to a victory parade and a hero’s welcome.
But it was in the years between Atlanta and 2000 games in Australia that Amy V was really tested. An injured shoulder led to surgery and rehab. Then, when she didn’t recover, she needed a second surgery and more rehab just months before the Olympic trials. And that’s when the famous Van Dyken determination kicked in.
In a dramatic comeback, she made it back to the trails. She finished second in the 50 free, fourth in the 100 free, and against the odds she made her second Olympic team. But that wasn’t enough. Amy didn’t leave Australia until she added two more gold medals to her collection. Just like that asthmatic little 6-year-old, Amy Van Dyken had pushed past the fears and the doubter to prove herself ‘most likely to win gold at the Olympics’ again.’
Success is aiming for the stars, because if you fall short, you are going to land on the moon, and there are not too many people on the moon now, are there?