This post is a special Gold Medal Moment feature on Diana Munz adapted from an original story by Bob Schaller on USASwimming.org.
She might one of the best swimmers that few people have ever heard of…
20+ National titles. 16 International medals, an Olympic Champion!
Growing up, Diana Munz was not the center of the swimming world’s media attention, nor on a high-profile club by any stretch. In fact, she trained with the same club she started with as a 7-year-old, the Lake Erie Silver Dolphins.
The Unthinkable Happens
When Munz was headed down the road with friends in a Volkswagen Beetle after a swim meet in July of 1999, she came up to a light. As she went through the intersection, a delivery truck, which had blown through a red light, came over the tracks and broadsided her car.
“I remember being told how lucky I was,” Munz said. “Someone said, ‘If that truck would’ve hit you a half-second later, it would’ve killed you.” That split second allowed Munz to avoid being hit broadside right in her door. But she didn’t feel that “lucky” as she lay in a hospital bed, four vertebrae in her lower back compressed – a “broken back” the doctors called it.
“It was scary,” she says quietly. “It was pretty bad in the hospital for a while.” Her mother stayed by her bedside that critical first night. The medical staff woke her up every 15 minutes and would ask her to move her feet and wiggle her toes. She only wanted to sleep. In the morning, the doctors told her the reason for the constant late night visits.
They were worried she’d be paralyzed from the waist down. “Thank goodness they didn’t tell me that until the next morning,” she says. “It’s pretty scary to think about it now.” Ironically, it was swimming that helped stave off possible paralysis. “That’s what my doctor said – that swimmers have a lot of muscle in their backs, so they said that helped me a lot,” she said. “It helped in the recovery, too.”
Road To Recovery
She was preparing for Pan Pacs before the accident, a moment in time that nearly ended her swimming career and her life, had it not been for the impact avoiding her directly.
“I thought I was done swimming,” she said. “I was very negative for a week or two at first. But my family and coaches were very supportive.”
“You broke your back, but you’re going to be all right,” she was told by her coaches.
“We’re going to get you back in the water. We don’t want to hear you say you don’t want to swim anymore.”
Munz got out of bed and started walking. Her trip back to the water was sooner than she had planned or expected, because her physical therapy was done mostly in a pool. “I still wasn’t even thinking about swimming at first,” she said. “To even think about making the Olympic team didn’t seem like it would be possible.”
Return To Swimming
And she wasn’t done in the pool. In what her doctors call a miracle, Munz returned to the water, made the Olympic team, won a silver in the 400m free and then a gold in the 800m free relay.
“To make the team in an event I didn’t think I’d make it in was really cool,” Munz said. The gold on the 800 free relay was memorable, but the silver in the 400 free, since it was an individual event, really crystallized what she had been through just to get to Sydney, let alone medal.
“The relay was neat, touching the wall and looking up, and seeing the close finish,” she said. “But the 400 was more amazing in a personal way, because it was my own individual event.”
On top of that, the 400 itself was one of the more notable performances, because Munz was trailing by a significant distance before hitting the accelerator and overtaking three other swimmers to nab the silver. “I was so far behind in that race,” she said. “But I came back.”
Fitting, since getting back in the water and making the U.S. Olympic team had been a comeback worth remembering on its own merits. “I had worked really hard just to get back in the water – I went to every practice with the attitude of doing everything right,” she said.
Moving On To The Future
Diana completed her competitive career with three Olympic medals, a gold as a member of the winning 800-meter freestyle relay team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, a silver for finishing second in the 400-meter freestyle at Sydney and a bronze for finishing third in the 800-meter freestyle at the 2004 Athens Olympics. She is a graduate of John Carroll University, attaining a degree in communications. She retired from competitive swimming in 2005.
Diana is now the Director of Swimming at the SPIRE Institute, an athletic facility in Geneva, Ohio! She’s also a health and wellness coach with Diana Munz Wellness. She has one main goal: helping clients achieve a better quality of life through both their physical and mental well-being.
A Gold Medal Moment can be any goal you wish to achieve. It’s something that you work towards everyday. It’s diverse, attainable and unique to the individual who will benefit most from its accomplishment.
This concept is not limited to purely athletic endeavors. It could be anything from improving your best time or losing weight. There is no limit to what you can achieve, and I strongly believe that everyone has a milestone worth sharing. These moments are timeless, they challenge boundaries, and most importantly they push our perspective of what we think is possible!