Do you think all Olympic athletes are in perfect health? Nope, that’s not the case. The following Olympians have overcome some severe health problems, both physical and mental, to reach the Olympic Games. Read on to learn what these athletes have overcome to make it to the top of their events.
Phil Dalhausser is a beach volleyball player from America. He and his partner, Todd Rogers, took the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They are also the reigning FIVB (Federation Inernationale de Volleyball) world champions. While he looks good playing the game, he does have health issues behind the scenes. So just what are they?
Phil Dalhausser was hospitalized for three days due to two blood clots. While in the hospital, he was on blood thinning medication to help the clots dissolve. The clots developed in his left subclavian vein, which drains blood from the left arm. Blood clots are dangerous because if they break free, they can travel to the heart or lungs.
Venus Williams is known for absolutely killing it on the tennis court. On three separate occasions, she has been ranked number one in singles by the Women’s Tennis Association. She is now known as one of the all time greats in women’s tennis. But Venus had to take a break from the sport for a while due to her diagnosis.
Venus was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, which is an autoimmune disorder. The most common symptoms include dry mouth, dry eyes, fatigue, joint pain, and thyroid problems. Venus experienced mostly fatigue and joint pain. “Some mornings I feel really sick,” she says of her bad days. People who have this condition have five to nine times the risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) than people in the general population.
Carrie Johnson is an Olympic kayaker. But instead of training for her first Olympics, she was dealing with stomach issues in 2003. The doctors were confused as to what was causing the problems. Of the condition, she said “It started with symptoms of fatigue and it kind of escalated to increasingly worse GI symptoms.”
After six months, the doctors finally figure out Carrie had Crohn’s disease. She qualified for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but was eliminated during the semifinals. In 2012, she was eliminated after the first round in the London Olympics. Currently, she is studying veterinary medicine at UC-Davis.
Jake Gibb is another beach volleyball player who has health problems. He played at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing with Sean Rosenthal. They played again in the 2012 London Olympics where they took fifth place. In 2010, during testing, he was found to have abnormal hormone levels. Of course, this was cause for some concern so it was investigated further.
After the hormone testing, the doctors found out that Jake Gibb had testicular cancer. He did not need radiation or chemotherapy because the tumor was removed with surgery. He was out for about a month and then started playing beach volleyball again. In 2002, he had malignant melanoma on his left shoulder that was successfully removed.
Dana Vollmer is an American swimmer who won gold at the 2004 Olympics. She also won gold and set the world record at the 2012 London Olympics. In the 2016 Rio games, she’s managed to scoop up the trifecta of a gold, silver, and bronze medal, adding to her total collection. Overall, she has 35 medals in major international competitions, which include now 20 gold medals. So how can this stellar swimmer have any health problems?
Long QT Syndrome
Long QT Syndrome is a rare heart condition that is passed through genetics. It causes a delay in repolarization of the heart, which increases the risk of an irregular heartbeat. Dana Vollmer was 15 when she was diagnosed, and later had surgery to correct it. The doctors did tell her she needs to have a defibrillator nearby when she swims, just in case of an emergency.
Eric Shanteau was part of the men’s Olympic swimming team in 2008 and 2012. He won two gold medals in London, at the the 2012 Olympics. He also holds the record in the United States for the 4×100 meter medley relay. But one week before the 2008 Beijing trials, Eric Shanteau received some bad news.
Testicular Cancer Diagnosis
He was diagnosed with testicular cancer a week before the Olympics. He decided to compete and missed the finals by 0.13 of a second. After the Olympics were over, he returned to the United States where he had surgery to remove the tumor. He is now in remission and raises awareness for testicular cancer.
Greg Louganis was an Olympian diver in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. In 1984, the Amateur Athletic Union awarded him the James E. Sullivan Award for most outstanding amateur athlete. At the Seoul Olympics in 1988, Greg had one of the scariest and most infamous moments in Olympic history.
During one of his dives, he hit his head on the springboard. He was given stitches and tried the same dive only 30 minutes later. Greg also suffered a concussion when he hit his head. He nailed the second dive and received the highest score in the preliminary round and went on to win the gold medal.
Natalie Du Toit
Natalie Du Toit represented South Africa at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She was born in Cape Town, South Africa and started swimming competitively and internationally when she was 14 years old. In 2001, an accident happened in which she was hit by a car while she was riding a scooter after swimming practice. She was only 17 years old.
She Kept Going
Her left leg had to be amputated because of the car accident, but she didn’t let that stop her. Just three months later she was walking again and back swimming. She was one of two Paralympians to take part in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Kerri Strug was a member of the “Magnificent Seven” gymnastics team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Kerri had a difficult path to the top. While training under Shannon Miller, she experienced severe weight loss and a serious stomach injury. In December 1995, she started training under Béla Károlyi and made it on the Olympic gymnastics team.
Kerri Strug is best known for an injury she suffered during the vault. She was the last gymnast to go for the United States and she fell on her first landing, which damaged her ankle. On her second vault, she landed firmly on both feet, then hopped onto one foot and fell to her knees. Her coach carried her off, but she helped the team win the gold medal.
Kieran Behan is an Irish gymnast who qualified for the 2012 London Olympics by taking fourth place in the floor exercise round. He was only the second Irish gymnast ever to qualify for the Olympics. Once he made it to London, he did not qualify for any of the events, but he had to overcome tremendous odds just to make it that far.
When he was just 10 years old, Kieran Behan had a benign tumor in his leg. He had surgery to remove it, but due to complications with he surgery, he was confined to a wheelchair. After 15 months, he was up walking again and he resumed his gymnastics training.
Oscar Pistorius is a South African runner who competed at the 2012 London Olympics. He was one of two amputees to compete at the Olympics that year. He tried to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but there was a lot of controversy surrounding his prosthetic legs, so he competed in the 2008 Summer Paralympics.
When Pistorius was born, he had a condition called fibular hemimelia. This means he was born without a fibula in both legs, which is a major bone in the lower leg. When he was 11 months old, his legs were amputated between his ankles and knees.
Im Dong-Hyun is an archer from South Korea. At the 2004 Olympics, he set a world record in the 72 arrow men’s individual ranking round. He placed sixth overall that year at the Olympics but was part of the men’s archery team that took the gold medal. In 2012 at the London Olympics, he set a new world record. So why is this so amazing?
Im Dong-Hyun is considered legally blind. He has 20/20 vision in one eye, his left, and 20/100 vision in his right eye. This means to see things clearly, he needs to be ten times closer than someone with perfect vision. After he shoots during a competition, Dong-Hyun sometimes needs to ask his teammates where his arrow hits on the target.
Queen Underwood had to overcome a different type of hurdle. The American boxer competed at the London Olympics in 2012, representing the United States. She was 19 when she started boxing by training at Cappy’s Boxing Gym and club. So what drove her to start the sport?
When Queen and her sister were 10 and 12 years old, their father molested them on a regular basis. Both girls kept the secret for a long time. Eventually, Queen got into boxing and says she wants to be a symbol of hope for those who have experienced similar horrific circumstances.
Nur Suryani Taibi
Nur Suryani Taibi represented Malaysia in the 2012 London Olympics as a sports shooter. While she did not have an illness or a health defect, she did have an interesting health circumstance. She was and is the only Olympian to ever try and qualify with this particular condition. So just what was it?
Nur Suryani Taibi was eight months pregnant when she went to the 2012 London Olympics. She took her shots between her daughter’s kicks and even talked to her baby during the competition. She said “I told her, OK, don’t move so much, behave yourself, Mommy’s ready to shoot, help Mommy to shoot.”
David Smith is a volleyball player for the men’s national volleyball team, representing the United States. He participated in the 2012 London Olympics and the team took the gold medal at the 2015 World Cup. So what makes him different from other players on the team?
David Smith was born nearly deaf. He mostly reads lips to understand his teammates, but he does wear hearing aids as well. With almost 90 percent hearing loss, he paid close attention during games to help his team excel in volleyball.
Jakie Joyner-Kersee is a four-time Olympian with three gold medals under her belt. Her sport is track and field, but she also played basketball and ran track while attending UCLA. But while she was training for these sports, she had a problem catching her breath. She went to the doctor to figure out what the problem could be.
The problem was asthma. Jackie Joyner-Kersee was diagnosed with asthma, but did not take her medication like she was supposed to. She had a severe asthma attack a few years later and almost lost her life. Since then, she has it under control and has been named one of the top female athletes of all time.
Amy Van Dyken
Amy Van Dyken is a swimmer and Olympian champion for the United States. In 1996, she took home four gold medals at the Atlanta Olympics and has a total of six gold medals in her career. The whole reason she started swimming was because of a doctor’s recommendation to help with her health condition.
When Amy Van Dyken was young, she was diagnosed with severe asthma. She suffered with it through her childhood and into adulthood. When she was first diagnosed, her doctor recommended swimming to help improve her lung capacity. It worked, and she became a world renowned swimmer. In 2014, she was in an ATV accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Pete Vanderkaay has four Olympic medals to his name and specializes in swimming middle-distance freestyle. He took home the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics and also was part of the United States’ swimming team. His disease started when he was young… what is it?
Pete Vanderkaay was diagnosed with asthma after experiencing his first symptoms when he was 10 years old. He was having trouble catching his breath, was wheezing, and had tightness in his chest. He is careful of his asthma now and keeps track of it daily, but it doesn’t let it hold him back.
Catherine Garceau is a Canadian Olympic swimmer. In 2000, her and her team took the bronze medal at the Sydney Olympics. But before becoming an Olympic swimming great, she had to overcome a myriad of health problems. So just what were these health problems?
Eating Disorder, Depression
Catherine Garceau overcame depression and an eating disorder before she became an Olympian synchronized swimmer. She is now a spokesperson, writer, and activist with the goal of helping others who have experienced these conditions. She wrote the book Be Fit and Be Free.
Allison Schmitt is an Olympic medalist who specializes in the freestyle swimming event. She made her debut in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics. In 2012, at the London Olympics, she won five medals — three of which were gold. She attended the University of Michigan, where she trained with Michael Phelps. She recently opened up about her condition.
Allision Schmitt battles depression on a regular basis. After her cousin committed suicide, Schmitt opened up and talked publicly about her condition. She said “I knew this was a time that I could save the next person who was struggling, the next person who thinks their life is not worth it.”