Determination

Teenager overcomes Crohn’s disease to qualify for Olympic swimming team

Kathleen Baker (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

In a performance that saw her take 2nd in the 2016 Olympic Team Trials for the 100-meter backstroke, Kathleen Baker, 19, has recorded the 7th-fastest time in the event of any American woman in history. In doing so, Baker overcame a medical diagnosis that, seven years ago, seemed like it had crushed her Olympic dreams for good. Shortly after having set her first national age-group records before her 13th birthday, Baker was resting in her father’s office when she saw an email sent by her doctor. “This is so bad, one of the worst stories ever,” Baker recalled. “I was on his email and an email popped up from my pediatrician saying the diagnosis.” The young swimmer had Crohn’s disease, a gastrointestinal condition that can sometimes cause symptoms so severe that whole patches of the intestines must be removed.

In eighth grade, Baker, already thin, lost more than 10 pounds. Her mother, desperate to keep her weight up, would feed her a cheeseburger and a 500-calorie cheesecake every night. “For years afterward,” Baker said, “I could not eat those foods because I hated them so much.” Throughout all of the pain and nausea, however, Baker continued to train, winning four medals at the 2013 world junior championships and finished second in the 200-meter backstroke at the senior nationals. And at the Olympic trials, in a field that included 2012 Olympic medalist Missy Franklin and former world-record holder Natalie Coughlin, Baker set her personal best, coming only 27-hundredths of a second behind the winner, Olyvia Smolgia. “What this means to me,” said Baker, tears coming to her eyes, “is on a whole ‘nother level.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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