By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Dagny Knutson, a 2011 World Champion, missed the Olympic Trials due to an eating disorder. The swimmer has courageously shared her story with Swimming World earlier this year. She looks to return to the pool at the Minneapolis Grand Prix this November, her first competition in almost one year. Last week, we updated readers on how Dagny was doing. This week, Dagny talks about the floods that affected her hometown, Minot, North Dakota, last year, how she used art therapy during her treatment, and her advice to any swimmers out there dealing with an eating disorder.
It’s been a wild ride for you, moving to different training locations. What’s it like being back home, training in North Dakota and being back in the pool?
It’s been going tremendously well. It’s been way better than I ever thought it would be. When I left home, I vowed never to come back because I was pretty unhappy here. But now that I have all my issues resolved, and have grown up a little bit, coming back was the best thing for me. I have a lot of support here, which has been really great. I’m definitely glad I chose to come back here for sure.
Your hometown was hit hard by floods in 2011. What’s the status of the town now?
A lot of people are fixing up their houses now. Getting ready to move back in. My neighborhood looks a lot better than it used to. There are a lot of people living in FEMA trailers. They couldn’t really work on their house at all. Our house in particular is still boarded up and standing there, rotting. It’s going to be foreclosed on, because the damage was too much that it wouldn’t have been worth it to fix it up financially. My parents found a really nice cute town home about an hour away. And I really like the place. It’s really comfortable.
So you’d like to maybe pursue art therapy? Explain that.
I did a lot of art therapy in treatment. It’s like music therapy. I could work in the eating disorder field. Or work with kids in hospitals in the hospital setting. You take art in the therapeutic approach. When I did art therapy, I molded clay. The thing was molding the clay as you see your body image. When I was in treatment, I found out I was a pretty talented artist. It was a really good release for me.
Before therapy you didn’t know you were a good artist?
No, not at all.
What kind of art do you like to do?
I like a little bit of everything. I do a little bit of drawing. My favorite is sculpting with clay or ceramics. I did a self-portrait in my drawing class this summer when I was in school in Florida.
Going forward with swimming, what are both your short term and long term goals for the sport?
Short term, my goal for next summer is to make the World Championship team for Barcelona. Get my status back as a world ranked athlete. I think I have that potential. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. My goal is to make the 2016 Olympics, because that’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid. I’m putting everything I have towards making sure things are going right. Making sure I’m a healthy and happy swimmer. That’s the best thing I can do for myself.
A long term goal is to be an advocate for young adults with eating disorders along with being an athlete. Whether it’s going around to give speeches, or holding some kind of public event. Being a good role model and being able to publicly speak about giving awareness to the issue.
Amanda Beard wrote a book about her own eating disorder earlier this year. Did she help give you courage to talk about your own battles?
I related to Amanda’s stories in a few ways. I’ve talked to her a little bit with what I was going through, and any advice she had for me. She’s been really helpful. Her story was an indicator that it was OK to share my story as well. Just because someone might be an Olympic athlete, they’re just the same as everyone else, and have struggles just the same as other people do too.
What’s been the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself in this journey so far?
I know one thing I’ve learned is that life is about balance. If you deprive yourself of one thing, you’ll want an excess of it later, or the opposite of that. Another example, if you don’t have a social life and you’re swimming all the time, you’re going to be unhappy. You need balance. You need to have a balance of hard work, fun, rest, activities. That’s the best way to be a happy person.
What advice do you have for anyone out there battling with an eating disorder?
As hard as it is to tell someone, please tell someone, someone of higher authority. Whether it’s a parent or a counselor. You could have bulimia or anorexia for three months, and die of heart failure. It doesn’t matter how long you have it. It’s very life threatening. Speaking up about it is the best thing you can do for yourself. That’s what I would do.