JANIS HAPE DOWD
April 2009 ALUMNUS OF THE MONTH
When Janis Hape competed in Montreal at the 1976 Olympics it quickly became clear the women’s U.S. Olympic swim team were no match against their East German counterparts. The sudden dominance by the East Germans took one of the best American woman swim teams of all time by surprise and the heartbroken team came home with just one gold medal.
Now happily married and a devoted mother of three, she wants her children to learn that putting your heart and soul into fulfilling your dreams is infinitely more important than winning a medal.
How important were the friendships you made as a swimmer and, who do you still keep in touch with today? The friendships I made as a swimmer are still very important to me some forty years later, beginning with my early days swimming at the YMCA. I stay in touch with lots of friends from my AAU and US swimming teams, my Olympic Swim Team and my college team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The most wonderful part of these friendships is they’ve taught me that swimmers will always have a very special bond and connection throughout the years. Because of the USA Swimming Foundation, I have been able to re-connect and continue these special friendships, long after we had finished swimming! In 1996, we had our first Olympic Swimming reunion at the 1996 Olympic Trials where I spent 3 days with a very special group of swimmers, some of whom I had not seen since walking off the pool deck in Montreal 20 years before! We quickly picked up where we left off and, even though some of these people are not in my everyday life, they are some of my best friends! Wendy Weinberg, Maryanne Graham, Camille Wright, Rick Collela, Kathy Heddy, among others. We found out that after our swimming lives we were all happy and successful people who had come to truly appreciate our Olympic experience (though at the time, being pummeled by the East Germans didn’t seem like an memory we’d ever want to remember). We are special friends who have come to realize that what we did was something to be proud of and, nothing can ever compare to the experience that we had or, the friendships we made!
If you had to single out one enduring moment from your swimming career, what would that be? There are several enduring moments from my swimming career that I think of often. But one of them from my Olympic experience will always stick with me because I didn’t perform as well as I had hoped. When you are representing your country you’d love to do your best and bring home a medal! I was sitting in the ready room at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, waiting for my heat to be called. In the room with me were competitors from other countries, including Karla Linke of East Germany. I had beaten her earlier in the year in a meet in Point Claire, Canada but, for some reason, she looked bigger and twice as heavy than before. After watching some of my teammates do poorly against the East Germans, I felt she was snickering at me before we swam. Of course I was very nervous when we got to the blocks, but it was worse after she purposely false-started twice - she was visibly smiling. This was no excuse for my poor swim, and to this day, I wish I had done better.
Tell us something about you that most people wouldn’t know – something that might surprise people. At age 30 and not yet married, I discovered I had a Non-Hodgkin lymphoma tumor in my chest cavity after having trouble breathing while swimming laps. After 3 months of chemotherapy once a week and a month of radiation twice a day (all while teaching exercise classes), I was in remission from a very “common” type of cancer found in women my age. My friends and family pulled me through this very scary time in my life and I am so truly blessed to be here 20 years later, healthy and happily married with 3 beautiful children. It seemed ironic that this first affected me in the pool, a place that I had spent so many hours in over my life. Kim Peyton, my roommate during my Olympic training camp, died of a brain tumor in 1986. I thought of her so often during my treatment and recovery.
In what ways did your swimming career impact your life, personally, and professionally? I truly feel that the person I am today is because of my swimming experiences. Particularly because of the dedication and hours of training it takes to reach your goals, all while going to school. I had several exercise studios for 11 years which were very successful and kept me busy before children. In my “grown up” life, I am always on time, organized, run a fairly tight ship at home but at the same time am a loving mother and dependable friend. A big part of my life is exercising at least once a day; it helps keep me in a good frame of mind when dealing with my household! I have always been goal orientated but now tend to keep my competitive toes out of things. As a mother I encourage my children to do their best and am always pleased with their efforts as long as they try; the point is not always to win. My kids love their sports but I take a back seat and let the coaches do what they know best. I had witnessed too many over the top parents during my competitive swimming career and, even today still see many parents who push their kids and want to live their dreams through their children. My parents were always very supportive, never pushed me or behaved the way some parents do today by being too involved in their kids' activities. All three of my children love the athletics they are involved with and, although (not being too involved) is a hard line to walk, I want my kids to excel at their sports through their own love and desire.
What is the most significant accomplishment of your post-swimming career? By far the most significant accomplishment in my post-swimming career is my wonderful marriage to Frank Dowd IV (since 1991), our 3 beautiful children, Will, age 13, and our twin girls, Diana and Sally who are 11 years old. We are so very fortunate to have other family members living nearby and to have a happy household that I am very proud of. I could not ask for anything more and am blessed to be happy and healthy!!