It’s 6 a.m., and the swim team has already started the day in the weight room for morning lifting. After a few classes, lunch, and then another class, the team makes its way to the pool for practice. Once practice is over, some members of the team have night class, which means they won’t be returning to their rooms till after 9 p.m. After the physically and mentally exhausting day, it’s time for homework, and finally sleep. Then the cycle starts over again.
That’s a typical day for swimmer Dalton Herendeen, a sophomore from Elkhart, Indiana. But Dalton’s not your typical swimmer. Dalton lost part of his left leg at birth as a result of a blood clot. The doctors were unable to determine exactly what caused the clot, which turned his leg black and blue. Dalton’s parents, Steve and Lynn Herendeen, were forced to choose: try to have the blood clot removed—a risk that could have fatal results—or have the leg amputated instead, just below the knee.
Water levels the playing field
At the age of eight, Dalton decided he wanted to try sports. His dad signed him up for every possible sport, including swimming. “I wasn’t too good at swimming at first,” Dalton recalls. But he loved the sport. “In the water, I was on even ground with everybody.” He uses a prosthesis away from the pool. He buckled down to focus on swimming, and his abilities in the water began to grow. He was a four-year letterwinner at Concord High School before coming to UIndy to study exercise science. Swimming with the Greyhounds this year, he earned his first letter, won the team’s mental attitude award, and finished eighth in the 1,650 freestyle to help UIndy take third place at the conference championships.
After getting a taste of competition against other talented athletes, Dalton set his sights on the 2012 Paralympics in London. With that ambitious goal in mind, he had to focus and train harder. He went on to compete in international swim meets, winning gold medals at the 2011 Parapan American Games in Colombia and both gold and silver at an international meet in Athens. He won a pair of events at the Olympic trials with victories in the 100 breaststroke and 100 backstroke, while also taking the runner-up spot in the 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley. He added a third-place finish in the 400 freestyle.
Finally he was selected by the United States Olympic Committee and U.S. Paralympics to represent the United States at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, August 29–Sept. 9. “It was pretty crazy to get the call because at the time I thought I might be out,” Herendeen said. “I couldn’t sleep the whole week because you have so much on your mind and thinking about what you could have done better.
“I was at the airport when they called and I had to head back. It was an emotional thing of going from the lowest low to the highest high. It was an absolutely awesome experience.”
Herendeen had competed as a S10/SM10 competitor in the free, back, fly, and IM and SB8 in the breast. In swimming, there are 14 classifications for athletes, ranging from 1 to 14. Levels 1 through 10 are reserved for athletes with physical disabilities. Generally speaking, 1 is more severe than 10.
“I’m top eight in the world in the 100 back, so I think I have a chance to medal,” Dalton says. “My big goal for London is to get a second chance. They only take the fastest eight back at night, and that would be awesome to do that at only 19—because a lot of the other guys who are top eight in the world are 26, 27, 28 years old, and veteran swimmers.”
He set the American Class 10 record in the200 IM last winter at 2:20.44, along with his personal best in the 400 free (4:24.68). His personal best in the 100 backstroke came at the trials.
Top 10 lists
As a UIndy freshman, Dalton was the UIndy men’s swimming mental attitude award winner after he finished eighth in the 1,650 free to help the Greyhounds take third at the GLIAC Championships. He added more points by taking 13th in the 1,000 free and 14th in the 400 IM. He is sixth in the 1,650 free and ninth in the 1,000 free on the Greyhounds’ all-time list. Dalton competes in distance freestyle events and finished the season in the top 10 lists for two of his three events. He placed 8th in the mile in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Dalton credits UIndy’s swim team and his coaches, Orel Oral and Gary Kinkead, for helping him develop. Kinkead is a fan.
“Dalton’s a solid contributor to the team in the pool and in the classroom, his work ethic is incredible, and he’s an inspiration to everyone around him,” Kinkead says. Along with the training equipment, pool, and the practices prepared by Kinkead, Dalton found that support from friends and the staff helped him prepare for June’s trials. “It makes it easier for me to give it my all with all the support from UIndy and the resources that they provide to me,” he says. “I love the swim program here.”
That’s not to say it’s all smooth sailing.
“You almost can’t put into words the things I’ve sacrificed just to get there,” he told South Bend CBS affiliate WSBT. “All my workouts, the little things, not hanging out with my friends, not doing this on weekends, not doing that during the week, getting up in the morning every day, going to practices. Anything you can do to make yourself great, because you only have one chance.”
An exercise science major, Dalton plans to continue his education by studying physical therapy. When looking for colleges, in fact, he chose UIndy because it had a successful swimming program and an outstanding physical therapy program.He balances demands of academics and athletics with the help of his professors. With his heavy schedule, Dalton sometimes has to miss class. But his professors have been more than supportive, he says, letting him turn in assignments early and helping him make up material he’s missed. Dalton plans a career in orthopedics, using his experience with prosthetics to help kids facing the same sorts of challenges. He’s already helping kids, teaching swim lessons and doing motivational speaking. Dalton had received a tremendous amount of support from the Shriners Hospital in Chicago; to give back, he goes to Shriners’ events to talk to donors about how their decisions change lives—like his.
Out of the pool
When he’s not too busy swimming or studying, Dalton enjoys his free time on campus. One of his favorite things is just hanging out with the guys on his floor in Warren Hall. He coaches his floor’s intramural football team, too, though the NCAA doesn’t allow him to play since he’s a Division II athlete. As Dalton strolls around campus, he looks just like any other UIndy Greyhound, and most of his fellow students don’t even realize that he has a prosthetic leg.
“If I wear jeans or pants, people have no idea whatsoever,” he says.
And Dalton maintains a positive attitude as he prepares to compete on the world stage. “When I go to the Paralympics, it reminds me how I am not disabled, because there are a lot of people worse off than me. I always remember how lucky I am.”
—Jennifer Meadows ’14 with Matt Holmes, Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations