Dalton Herendeen was proud of making the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Swimming Team. He had to fight his way on against tough competition to earn his ticket to London.
But he says getting to a second Paralympics was much more difficult.
First, because he’s out of college now and his training was mostly on his own, he no longer had the benefit of being pushed by his teammates and training with a group.
“I get up every day on my own,” said Herendeen, 23. “I motivate myself. I set my alarm, I get up to get to the pool by myself, I train, do everything on my own.”
He also is no longer a student-athlete at the University of Indianapolis. After graduating in May 2015, he moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia, to become an assistant swim coach at University of Mary Washington, so his training became one part of a daily schedule that also included several hours of coaching, office work, travel and other responsibilities.
And then, there were injuries to overcome.
The big one occurred in July 2015 at the IPC Swimming World Championships in Scotland when he blew out his right knee. That’s his good leg. Just after birth, his left leg was amputated below the knee because of a blood clot.
The years of putting extra pressure on the right leg took their toll, and the knee required reconstructive surgery. Doctors told him his right leg is that of a 48-year-old, not a young man right out of college.
Herendeen admits he was ready to retire from swimming.
He recalls thinking that there was no way he’d be able to recover, train and regain his level of performance in time to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Games in September.
“I told my coach, ‘I’m done,’” he said.
But his coach, Abby Brethauer, convinced him he could recover, train and be strong.
So after surgery in November, he began training in February and saw good results. By the time of the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in late June, he was swimming better than ever, earning a trip to Brazil.
“I had a phenomenal meet, my best times, and just crushed it,” he said. “So now here I am, with the Games coming up.”
Herendeen posted the second best time in the 100-meter breaststroke (1:14.59), lowering his own U.S. record in the SB8 class. He also had the No. 2 time in the 100-meter butterfly (1:03.48).
This Time, A Medal?
Herendeen swam in multiple events at the London Games — the 200-meter individual medley, 100 breaststroke, 100 butterfly, 100 backstroke and 400 free — but did not medal.
At the time, he said his main thrust was to get to the Games and soak up the experience.
Now, however, he wants to come home with a medal.
Primarily because of his knee injury, he believes this will be his last Paralympics. He describes his right knee as “bone on bone,” and the pain can be acute. It’s often swollen and keeps him awake at night.
Even before his knee injury last year, he and Brethauer decided that his best strategy for medaling at Rio would be to focus on the breaststroke. He had been a top, longer-distance freestyle swimmer in high school and at the University of Indianapolis, where he excelled against able-bodied swimmers. He swam longer distances such as the 400 and 1,000 free and the mile, and was top eight in his conference all four years.
Now, his training has been more specialized.
“I really focused down because I wanted to give myself the best opportunity to medal,” he said.
Under Brethauer, he’s been swimming less, but refining more. In college he said he’d swim about 16,000 yards a day. Now he’s doing 4,000 to 5,000 daily, but it’s “quality over quantity,” with an emphasis on technique and a “focused understanding” of how he needs to improve.
The results have been good. Herendeen’s best time in the 100 breaststroke four years ago was 1:21. Now it’s 1:14. That puts him in the thick of medal contention in the event. The No. 1 swimmer in his classification has a best of 1:10, with the No. 2 swimmer at 1:12 and No. 3 at 1:13.
“Then there’s four of us that go 1:14s,” he said.
“We’re all jumbled up in there,” he added. “It’s anybody’s race. If I go under 1:13 or even 1:12, I could medal.”
In Rio, he’ll still swim other events in addition to the 100 breaststroke. He’ll be in the 400 free, the 200 IM, the 100 butterfly and the medley relay. He’s most excited about his prospects in the 100 breast and relay.
If he does retire from swimming after these Paralympics, he’s still going to be in and around a pool for the rest of his life.
He went to college to study to become a physical therapist, but after taking part in coaching clinics after the London Games, he discovered coaching is his passion.
He joined Brethauer’s staff after graduation, and recently was named the new head site coach for the Stingrays Swimming club at the Jeff Rouse Swim and Sport Center in Stafford, Virginia. He and a staff of assistants coach 218 kids of all ages.
“It’s absolutely fulfilling and amazing,” he said.
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.