By By Chase McFadden//Contributor | Monday, December 5, 2016
David Plummer’s heart-wrenching disappointment of finishing third at 2012 Olympic Trials and missing making the Olympic team in the 100 backstroke is well documented.
It’s almost exclusively the driving force over the past four years to return to 2016 Trials and claim his rightful spot on the team headed to Rio.
“It wasn't easy to forget about 2012, and that definitely motivated me moving forward,” said Plummer, a gold (2011) and silver (2013) medalist at the FINA World Championships. “For me, there was always something left to accomplish – another goal to reach so even on the days when it was tough to wake up or push through the pain, I had a reason to keep going.
“I believe things happen for a reason, even if that reason sucks. I wasn't ready for success in 2012. I made changes and got better. I prepared myself and believed myself to be worthy in 2016. It was a long road, but it was absolutely necessary.”
So when he made this year’s Olympic team in his signature event – fulfilling a dream he’d held sacred since he first started swimming as a young boy – it proved both cathartic and redeeming.
“Making the Olympic team was really special to me,” he said. “It is different from making World Championships in how much the country gets behind the team. The support we got from so many people was just incredible.
“The Olympics are special because we come together as a country to celebrate our success, and we feel the heartbreak of a disappointing performance together. It is truly a chance for us all to come together in a positive way and that is really special.”
Plummer’s eventual Olympic journey proved a complicated but rewarding one. As one of two fathers on this year’s Olympic team (Michael Phelps being the other one), the University of Minnesota graduate and All-American spent the past quadrennial in Minneapolis training full-time at the University of Minnesota.
He trained in Minnetonka (Minn.) until January 2014 before moving back to the University of Minnesota full-time. Plummer said he questioned the decision any time he had a tough practice or bad meet.
While training full time, he worked as a swimming coach in the fall and winter at a local high school, but other than that he said he focused on swimming and his growing family. Since 2012 Trials, he and wife, Erin (a former Gopher swimmer herself) welcomed sons William, 3, and Ricky, 5 months.
“Becoming a husband and father has done nothing but make me better in the pool,” said Plummer, whose wife works a crazy schedule as a neonatal doctor at the University of Minnesota.
“It can be a tough balance for sure. Sometimes I was so tired from training that all I wanted to do was sleep for days. I would get home, and my son would be running all over the place, screaming or crying and more of my hair turned grey. It wasn't always easy, but it was always worth it.”
Having realized his dream, Plummer said he is taking a break from swimming right now while he tries to figure out what his next step will be in the pool – if there is a next step.
He is currently working at the University of Minnesota in the Athletic Department and said he really enjoys his new position.
In the meantime, he’s in the process of deciding if he still has the drive to get back into the pool.
“My career after swimming would be a lot easier if I had spent the last eight years getting experience or going back to school,” said Plummer, who admits he would really like to continue in the business side of the sports world.
“The thing I kept coming back to was that I needed to have my best race. I needed to walk away knowing I had done my best and up to that point, I didn't feel like I had done that.”
Regardless of what happens moving forward – if Plummer decides to keep swimming toward Tokyo in 2020 or retire – he knows he will always have memories from his swimming pinnacle to remember and share for the rest of his life.
“The Olympics were a blast,” he said. “I was surprised after Omaha how relaxed I felt. The pressure seemed to be off, and I was just really excited to compete and be a part of the team. “My favorite memories outside of the pool would have to be just spending time with teammates. Whether it was watching movies before we raced or playing volleyball on the beach when we were done, hanging out with the team was the best.
“I definitely chased the Olympic dream, but also, I chased my best. At different times in my career, other things have gotten in the way of my swimming. Some of them were my fault, while others were outside of my control. It took a lot of personal growth to really have the success I was looking for at the international level.”
USA Swimming is re-celebrating the top moments from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Check back onsftest.usaswimming.org every few days for new profile on the the swimmers who made those moments happen. Also, follow us on Facebook and Twitter @USASwimming for more on our success in Rio.