Dutch swimmer Inge Dekker has had to face many challenges in her life, but none greater or more significant than the one she was presented with in February of this year. Dekker, who has an Olympic medal of every colour, was diagnosed with cervical cancer just seven months ago and has battled back to qualify for the 50 freestyle semi-finals in Rio.
The diagnosis was made after a routine check up, “The cancer was found during a routine check,” Dekker told SwimSwam‘s Loretta Race in an interview in July. “I wasn’t experiencing any complaints. And that is exactly how it works with cervical cancer. When you start to feel something is off, you’re in a bad place because the cancer has developed into a more severe stage. My stage was still stage 1 and relatively small.”
When it comes to cancer the words ‘relatively small’ does not do justice to the affect this disease has on a person’s life. Dekker had to under go surgery in March, made her return to competition in June and was named to the Dutch Olympic team in July.
Her goals and ambitions to swim in the Olympics, never mind compete again, were lofty and what she has accomplished today in Rio speaks to the character of this Olympic champion, “For me competing in the Olympics was always in the back of my mind. Other things, like being able to have children or surviving were way more important of course.”
“When I heard the diagnosis I was quite sure my swimming days were over. But when we found out the cancer was still in an early stage, I did bring up the Olympics subject. I did research myself about treatment options and asked lots of questions. My doctors were quite skeptic but they also wanted to cooperate in this challenge. They’d never met any patients with this goal and after getting used to the idea I think it became their goal too. I’m really thankful to them for adapting to my specific situation.”
Dekker qualified for the semi-finals with the 13th fastest time of 24.77 in the prelims just 35 one-hundredths of a second off her lifetime best and the fastest she has gone since the summer of 2014.
This is Dekker’s fourth Olympic Games. She has been part of the Dutch 4 x 100 freestyle relay each time winning bronze in 2004, gold in 2008 and silver in 2012. In Rio the team just missed out on a medal finishing fourth.