by Faye Rapoport
The name Jenny Thompson has become synonymous with U.S. Olympic swimming. At 30 years old, Thompson is a 10-time Olympic medalist, the most medaled U.S. female Olympian, an 11-time World Championship Medalist (most medals ever by a U.S. Woman), the 2000 Women’s Sports Foundation Athlete of the Year and a multiple world and American record holder.
Thompson’s amazing career was expected to come to a close after the 2000 Olympic Games, where she became the most medaled U.S. Olympic athlete of all time in any sport. But after a two-year layoff to attend Columbia Medical School in New York City, Thompson decided to get back in the pool just to stay in shape. She discovered that she still had the same love and passion for swimming and began thinking about returning to competition. But this time, according to Thompson, it was out of a desire to give something back by reaching out to young swimmers and motivating them to stay in the sport.
In her first swim meet after only five weeks of training, Thompson stunned the swimming community. She won gold at the 2002 Pan Pacific Championships, lowering her personal best in the 50m free to 25.13 seconds. Continuing “part-time” training as she pursues medical school, Thompson has broken several American records, and she won five medals at the 2003 World Championships, including gold in the 100m Butterfly.
A real team player, Thompson prides herself on the fact that some call her the “Greatest Olympic Teammate of All Time” because of the medals she has helped earn in relay swimming. Her performances have provided more than 25 teammates with the opportunity to achieve their dreams of winning Olympic gold.
Along with all of the accomplishment and Olympic glory, Foot.com readers might be surprised to learn that Thompson has been dealing with something much less glamorous: toenail fungus. She is now working to raise awareness about this common — but not often discussed – problem that can haunt anyone, but especially athletes who spend a lot of time near swimming pools, at gyms or in public showers.
Read on to hear what Jenny Thompson had to tell us about the importance of foot health for swimmers and what she’s doing to combat toenail fungus for herself and others.
Foot.com: First, can you tell us what made you decide to become a competitive swimmer, and what you enjoy about your sport?
Thompson: I started swimming competitively when I was 8, but I could “swim” before I could walk. I’ve always loved the water and the swim team was a natural fit for me. I thrived on the social aspect — seeing my friends every day at practice and traveling to meets together was very fun for me.
Foot.com: Most people understand the importance of strong and healthy feet for runners or any athlete who spends a lot of time pounding their feet on solid ground. Can you tell us why healthy feet are also important for swimmers?
Thompson: Feet are very important in swimming because they help propel the body through the water. My mom always called my feet “flippers” because I have size 11 and their large size gives me an advantage. Healthy feet are important because you really can’t swim with a foot injury- not only is there a flexing and extending of the foot with the strokes, but there is the push-off at each end of the pool with the flip-turns. Also, infections such as Athlete’s Foot and toenail fungus can be a source of embarrassment with bare feet at the pool, so it’s important to take measures to avoid contracting either.
Foot.com: Can you describe how the feet might be used differently in different strokes?
Thompson: The motions of the foot is basically a regular flexion and extension in Freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly, but breaststroke involves a rotation at the ankle as well. It’s important for swimmers to have flexible ankles for a greater range of motion and propulsion.
Foot.com: Do you run as part of your training?
Thompson: I often run in the beginning of a season when the work load isn’t as great in the pool. Most swimmers find that running is an easy way to stay fit or shed a few pounds if need be — most find it hard to lose weight by swimming alone, perhaps because of the lack of gravity in the water.
Foot.com: Do you do particular strength training exercises for your feet or lower legs?
Thompson: I often do calf raises at the gym to strengthen my lower legs. I also like to do box jumps to improve explosiveness off the block (the start of a race).
Foot.com: I understand that you have had to deal with toenail fungus. At Foot.com we are very aware of the issue of toenail fungus and how difficult it can be to eradicate from the foot, but many people don’t know a lot about it. Can you tell us how you contracted the fungus, what kind of treatment you’ve had, and whether or not it’s still a problem for you?
Thompson: I believe that I contracted toenail fungus from walking around on the pool deck and then not cleaning and drying my feet well enough when I put my shoes on. It started at the corners of my big toenails and then spread so that my big toenails weren’t really attached except at the base. After awhile I had it on four of my toenails. I started using Penlac Nail Lacquer about a year ago and it’s clearing up nicely. [Note: Penlac is the only prescription topical therapy approved by the FDA to treat nail fungus.]
Foot.com: Are you currently working to raise awareness about toenail fungus? If so, tell us about your efforts.
Thompson: Yes. I’m working with Dermik Laboratories on a toenail fungus public awareness campaign. We did a satellite media tour recently that aired on many morning TV news programs across the country. I’m proud to be a part of such a campaign because it is an opportunity to educate people on how to prevent toenail fungus and how to recognize and treat it.
Foot.com: Have you ever had any other foot condition or injury that needed treatment or affected your swimming career?
Thompson: Not really. I have been very fortunate with regard to injuries (knock on wood!).
Foot.com: Do you have any general advice for swimmers about maintaining healthy feet?
Thompson: Make sure to wear flip-flops on the pool deck and dry your feet well after you swim to help avoid skin infections like Athlete’s Foot and nail fungus. Also make sure to stretch and do light ankle mobility before cross training and swimming. It seems to me that swimmers injure their feet when they are doing activities other than swimming, like playing basketball, for example.
Foot.com: What are your plans for future competition?
Thompson: I’ll be training for the 2004 Olympic Trials which occur in July 2004. If I place top 2 there, then I’m headed to my 4th Olympics! I’ll be retiring after that.
Foot.com: We’ll be rooting for you, Jenny. I know your schedule is packed, so thanks for talking to Foot.com, and we wish you the best for the future.