October 2, 2023

Ready for Rio

Beaming in a photo in front of Big Ben, Dalton Herendeen couldn’t have known he’d leave London, and the 2012 Paralympic Games, without gold, silver, or bronze. Or that he would have a second shot next week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“I will have a chance to medal,” said Herendeen, UMW’s assistant swim coach. “That’s the thing that drives me the most now.”

Born with a blood clot that caused the loss of his lower left leg, Herendeen plunged into sports anyway, finding his niche in the pool. A record-breaking opponent to able-bodied swimmers, he would question his fit in the Paralympics. But in the long line of coaches he’d learn from, one would push him to try. Another would make sure he got there again.

“A medal would be amazing,” said Eagles head swim coach Abby Brethauer, who hired Herendeen and spent the past year training him for Rio. “I just want him to be happy with the way this journey ends.”

Dalton Herendeen


But first, the beginning.

Growing up in the Midwest, Herendeen tackled a series of clunky prosthetics but played the same sports as his siblings – basketball, football, and soccer. In the water, he excelled. Despite his disability, he’d made the state finals in high school and earned a scholarship to the University of Indiana. So when his coach suggested he look into the Paralympics, Herendeen balked. Competing against handicapped swimmers seemed like a step backward.

But he came around.

“I thought I was going to destroy these kids,” said Herendeen, who was disarmed by the wheelchairs and prosthetics that scattered the deck at that first 2008 meet. “But they were phenomenal. I got my butt kicked.”

He licked his wounds and set his sights on 2012. For the next four years, he would eat, sleep, and breathe swimming, and it paid off. But despite his sturdy performance in London, there would be no medals to bring home.

Distraught, Herendeen no longer wanted to look at a pool much less swim in one. That’s when he got a call from the folks at Bates College Swim Camp, which UMW’s Brethauer co-founded. They had seen a feature on him in the NCAA magazine Champion and asked him to join their coaching team.

Working with kids turned things around, pumped Herendeen up, and pulled him back to the pool. Back at U-Indy, he broke lots of records and became captain of the school’s Division II team. When he graduated, Brethauer asked him to coach at Mary Washington and promised to train him for Rio.

Then, at last year’s world championships in Scotland, something went wrong. Herendeen blew out his right knee, the good one, and had to have surgery. With Brethauer’s encouragement, he pressed through the pain of recovery and continued to train.

The two would spend hours each day in the Goolrick Hall pool or in the long-course lanes at the Jeff Rouse Family Swim and Sport Center, where Herendeen coaches the Fredericksburg Stingrays. Together, they’d focus on the technique and strategy he would need in Brazil, where he’s slated to compete in the 400-meter freestyle, 200-meter individual medley, 100-meter butterfly, 100-meter breaststroke and 400-meter medley relay.

Four years ago, at the Paralympic Games in London, Herendeen said, he was star struck. Just getting there was enough, and he soaked it all in. This time around he wants more.

“I’ve accomplished everything I want to in my career; the only thing I have not done is to medal,” he said. “Whether I do or I don’t, what I want to be able to do … is say, ‘Dalton, you gave it everything you had.’ “

The 2016 Paralympic Games run Sept. 7 to 18. Find the schedule online at  https://www.rio2016.com/en/paralympics/schedule-and-results.