Bouncing back after baby wasn’t at the top of Olympic swimmer Dana Vollmer‘s to-do list.
Vollmer — who is mom to Ryker Alexander, 5 weeks, and Arlen Jackson, 2 — posed nude for the inaugural Women’s Health‘s Global Naked issue while she was still pregnant with her younger son, and revealed some of the experiences she has had concerning her body both as an athlete and a mom.
“It took the disappointment of missing the Olympic team in 2008 to realize that I wasn’t happy,” says Vollmer, 29, who won three medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics after becoming a first-time mom to Arlen. (Previously, she took home three gold medals at the 2012 games.)
“I wasn’t enjoying competing, or training, and it was because I was picking apart every single thing I did and picking apart my body. It took that disappointment to realize this is not a way to live,” she continues. “From that point forward, I tried to step back from that mindset and learn to appreciate all that my body does.”
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Vollmer says pregnancy “was a positive for me too,” as she came to “the realization that my body has created a new life.”
“That’s one reason why coming back to the sport after the birth of my son went so well. I had Arlen, and it wasn’t about getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight,” she explains. “My top priority was being able to nurse him. That meant that if I was going to train, I couldn’t just quickly lose weight.”
Adds the mom of two, “I had to view getting back into shape as this healthy, nutritious process. It made me love training again, and it made me embrace my body, embrace life. All of that made getting back into Olympic form easier.”
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The athlete sees her naked body as “strong,” but admits that her career choice has made that difficult at times in the past, considering how much competition was around her. “Being a swimmer all your life, you’re exposed. You’re always in a swimsuit. It’s easy to be critical of yourself,” Vollmer says.
“I wasn’t as lean as some of the athletes I saw. I wasn’t as toned. I didn’t have as much muscle mass,” she continues. “You look at other swimmers and you think, Their body is why they’re successful — I need to do exactly what they do. But my body is not their body. I can’t eat the same way as other people. My body is not going to respond the same way.”
Luckily, Vollmer has learned to see the bigger picture in terms of how to appreciate her form in the frame of all parts of her life — including how fortunate she is to have her sons and husband Andy Grant by her side.
“Looking at myself now, at 35 weeks pregnant , I joked with the photographer that this is the first photo shoot where I’m not thinking about sucking in my abs,” she reveals. “I can step back and look at the broader perspective: My son is happy; the pregnancy is going well; life is good right now.”