Some people are born natural athletes. Amy Van Dyken’s path to greatness started when she was diagnosed with asthma when she was 18 months old.
A few years later, at age 6, doctors suggested that Van Dyken try swimming as a way to manage her asthma, which can make breathing difficult. It was hoped that swimming would help Van Dyken control her breathing and strengthen her lungs, thus making it easier for her to deal with her asthma.
“Because of my asthma I couldn’t swim the length of the pool until I was 12,” Van Dyken said.
“It was something that I loved and I never really aspired to be a great swimmer. I just kept doing what I loved to do and kept improving every year.”
Van Dyken narrowly missed qualifying for the 1992 Barcelona Games, finishing fourth in the 50-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Two years later, as a senior at Colorado State University, she was named the NCAA Female Swimmer of the Year. Van Dyken then trained full time for the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, where she became the first American female to win four gold medals in a single Olympics.
Van Dyken took gold in the 4×100-meter medley and freestyle relays. She then scored an upset in the 100-meter butterfly, winning that race for the first time in a major competition. With three gold medals already in hand, Van Dyken was relaxed as she sped to gold in the 50-meter freestyle – needing just one breath to go the length of the pool – winning by just three one-hundredths of a second.
After the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, Van Dyken continued training, with her sights set on the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Shoulder injuries hampered her ability, though, and limited her to swimming only freestyle. She finished fourth in the 50-meter freestyle, but swam a leg on the gold-medal winning 4×100-meter freestyle and earned another gold medal by swimming preliminary heats in the 4×100-meter medley relay as the American entry went on finish first in that event.
Following her swimming career, Van Dyken forged a career in broadcasting. An 2014 accident on an all-terrain vehicle left her paralyzed from the waist down.