Baum finds new perspective as a leader in the pool

David La Vaque

Over a four-year span in her native Carson City, Nev., Dana Baum racked up a plethora of awards and citations for her swimming skills.

Baum graduated from Carson High School in 1999 a two-time swimmer of the year and a four-time high school All-American while leading her team to four state championships.

Yet there was Baum looking eastward for her collegiate swimming options. Ultimately, Baum chose Minnesota over Michigan and Auburn, and the junior is now the Gophers top swimmer.

“I wanted to go somewhere I’d never been before, where nobody knew me,” Baum said. “And then I would learn more about myself because I didn’t have any connections.

“I’ve always been really independent and this experience has taught me so much more about being myself.”

In just over two seasons at Minnesota, the self-reliant Baum has discovered a leader does more than give her best – she puts faith in others to give their best as well.

Learning the lesson was harsh. While undergoing her freshman physical prior to the season, Baum was diagnosed with mononucleosis.

The virus kept Baum from any serious training until January. However, the Gophers were a loaded team en route to its second consecutive Big Ten title, giving Baum ample time to fully recover.

Team physicians looked after Baum, and their support sped her recovery while boosting her confidence in those around her.

“I figured these people know what they’re doing,” Baum said. “They took care of me so well. They made sure I didn’t overdo it and I healed so quickly because of them.”

Once healthy, Baum took out her frustration in the pool while others watched in awe.

“She began swimming lifetime bests after being sick,” said coach Jean Freeman. “To me, that’s unheard of.

“But it was at Big Tens where she set the world on fire.”

Baum led all first-year Minnesota swimmers with 47.5 points at the 2000 Big Ten championships on the strength of top eight finishes in three events.

“She is really good at taking what she can from setbacks and becoming better for the experience,” said Dave Hoover, Baum’s coach at Reno Aquatic Club. “She’s developing into the total athlete now. Besides the physical capabilities she’s bringing along her mental capabilities.”

As a sophomore, Baum continued to improve. She scored 63.5 points at the 2001 Big Ten championships, second among Gophers.

Baum was one of two Minnesota swimmers to participate at the NCAA championships last season, participating in three freestyle races. Baum placed 23rd in the 200, 19th in the 500 and 19th in the 1,650.

This season, Baum owns Minnesota’s top times in four freestyle events, the second-best time in two events and is featured on four of the Gophers’ five relays.

Baum was the Big Ten Swimmer of the Week in November after four top-three finishes against Michigan and North Carolina.

She’s aiming for a return to the NCAA meet and the chance to score points for Minnesota.

Baum is not motivated by the desire to win. Rather, she draws her inspiration from the challenge of the chase.

“I’ve always believed in doing the best I can,” Baum said. “As long as I put in the effort I believe that I have, it doesn’t matter where I end up.”