Former Olympic champ Jenny Thompson takes on new opponent

Jenny Thompson still loves speed.

Only now does she perform in an operating room instead of the pool.


One of America's greatest Olympic swimmers, Thompson is at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus as an anesthetist at VA Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina.

"I like things that happen quickly," she said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. "In the operating room, things happen quickly."

Thompson competed in four Olympics, winning eight gold medals and 12 medals in total before retiring after the 2004 Athens Games. Then she turned to her other passion.


Health care.

The Massachusetts native chose anesthesia because it fit the personality of a swimmer who specializes in shorter runs.


"I loved the acute nature of helping patients during surgery" Thompson said. “As a sprinter, I really appreciated the rapid changes you see in physiology. You are giving medicine and seeing immediate results. "

After working in a private practice in Maine for seven years, she moved to Charleston in 2018, along with her husband and their two young children, now aged 4 and 7.

The coronavirus outbreak added a whole new element to his work.

"When I saw our way, I was very afraid to be protected," the 47-year-old man Thompson granted. "After we had adequate PPE (personal protective equipment), I felt I was ready."


The virus has not yet had a major impact in South Carolina, which has reported about 6,500 cases and less than 300 deaths. The VA hospital in Charleston handled only one serious case from Covid-19, according to Thompson, and some other patients with milder symptoms.

But elderly veterans are an especially vulnerable group. Thompson he knows that the numbers could get worse, especially with South Carolina joining a growing list of states that are taking steps to reopen, even as the death toll in the United States has risen to 70,000.

A mandatory "work or home" order was lifted on Monday by South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, who also eased other restrictions on everyday life.

“The end is not in sight. I know that we will see more patients ” Thompson said. "We are prepared and ready."

She has mixed feelings about lifting restrictions that helped curb the spread of the highly infectious virus, but that has brought the economy down to a record high.

"I am concerned that there is another wave of cases" Thompson said. "I also think it's a delicate balance of what people can handle and what the economy can handle. Unemployment is the worst in history, but people need to be responsible for their actions."

Last weekend, there were scenes across the country of people gathering in large numbers, many without a mask or keeping the recommended 6 feet apart. Some went to the beach. Others gathered in city parks. There were even reports of people lining up in an Atlanta mall to buy a newly launched Air Jordan sneaker from Nike.

This is worrying for health professionals, as Thompson.

“We have to take social detachment seriously,” she said, “we need to wear masks. We have to stay six feet. We can't have parties. We need social responsibility. I know we need to open up, but we need to do it intelligently, based on data. We cannot have just one date in mind to do so. We need to do this only when it is appropriate for that region based on the data. "

Thompson looks back fondly on his athletic career. She was one of America's greatest relay swimmers, winning 10 of her 12 Olympic medals while joining others. She is tied with other swimmers Dara Torres and Natalie Coughlin for the most general medals of an American. Only Michael Phelps won more.

"For a long time, I was so immersed in my medical training, starting a new career and having a new family, that I didn't think about it too much", Thompson said. “But as time goes by, and people are still talking about what I did, it's becoming clearer that it was a really special career. I am very grateful for all the people around me who helped me. "

It turned out that swimming only prepared her for a higher calling.

Thomson still has the fierce competitiveness that served her so well in the pool. Just now, she is facing a much more frightening opponent.

"Through my swimming career, I learned mental toughness and how to deal with adverse situations," she said. "I tried to extend mental toughness to the people around me. This is the final challenge that any of us has faced.

"But I have always thrived on challenges."


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