Mallory Weggemann said her health deteriorated and she experienced nausea and hair loss after competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The loss of her hair, which had been a focal point of her Olympic appearance, prompted her to undergo a preventative surgery that became the precursor to an even bigger decision.
In September, Weggemann announced her retirement from swimming, completing an Olympic career that included a 5-medal medal haul in the 2008 Games in Beijing.
“I have one of the most defined lives anyone can have in swimming, I really am,” said Weggemann, who will compete in the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. “Now it’s about life and being able to make the decisions about all the things I want to do with life and making sure that I choose to be happy.”
In her time at Arcadia High School, Weggemann was a student-athlete at the University of Arizona and represented her country four times in the Olympics, earning a silver medal in the 4×100-meter medley relay and a bronze medal in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay and a gold medal in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay.
When Weggemann set out to become an Olympic swimmer, she was happy to be the beneficiary of opportunities that came along the way. Instead of focusing on injuries and restrictions, as she had the previous year after the London Games, Weggemann was grateful for the support and appreciation she received from the U.S. Swimming national team.
“A lot of the girls were shocked that I was going to compete in the 2012 Olympics because in 2011, I had my tonsils out and I wasn’t really training anymore,” said Weggemann, 24. “But I had a year where I got injured after the London Olympics and wasn’t in the best of shape and I’m really proud of that.”
Her mood and fitness began to change in the fall of 2012, as her weight dropped precipitously. She was wearing 100-pound swim shorts in a race and admitted that she had a terrible time hanging onto objects.
Weggemann said that the standards for swimming have changed since the inception of the Olympics. There was no such competition for women’s swimming, as is now the case.
As it was, Weggemann said, “You could never have coached somebody to come into the pool without glasses.”
Unlike many athletes, who rededicate themselves to training a year after the Olympics, Weggemann was able to set her own timetable. Her regimen consisted of not sleeping too much in order to focus on recovering and loading up on heavy diet, but ultimately, the burning off had to stop.
Weggemann knew she had to return to healthy eating as soon as possible in order to “to reclaim who I was and hopefully the world will recognize that again.” She will continue to train as a pilot for an airline company and participate in the Paralympic team’s first relay team in eight years.
The last big stressor in her life came late last month, when Weggemann underwent laser hair removal. For an athlete who had transformed from brunette to blonde in just a few months, it was a big adjustment. She laughed while saying it was “totally different, but it worked.”
Back at practice, Weggemann earned a 5th-place medal in the four-person 200-meter individual medley in the Commonwealth Games with a time of 2:08.52. She admitted that she had struggled in this event to begin with.
In 2012, Weggemann and her family experienced a host of difficulties related to her growth, which doctors first identified as focal adenotons, which lead to further complications.
It was never a secret that her growth stemmed from a rapid start at age 4 and not from anything physical or neurological, as some others might have claimed. For such a noticeable transformation, it was a bigger surprise than others.
“I was really shocked. I wanted to be like everyone else and the guys on the team, to have great looks. I guess I wanted to be pretty, and now I’m just the same,” Weggemann said. “Swimming saved my life. I was tired of competing when I got injured. I was competitive.”