Like many working moms, Summer Sanders spends most days in motion. So it wasn’t unusual for the former Olympic swimmer and mom to Skye, 6, and Robert, 4, to put her feet up at night to ease the ache. But she soon discovered her leg pain was more than just fatigue—she was suffering from chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), an advanced form of varicose veins.
“Moms especially tend to think their legs hurt because they’re on their feet all day long,” she says. “But there could be a reason for it.”
Now Summer, 39, is the spokesperson for RethinkVaricoseVeins.com, a campaign to raise awareness about potential complications from the condition and several new minimally invasive treatment options.
We talked to the gold medalist about her experience with CVI, the upcoming London Olympics (for which she’ll provide commentary for Yahoo! Sports) and keeping her kids healthy.
Spry: How did you learn you had CVI?
Summer Sanders: I’ve been aware of varicose veins in general since I was little—my mom was a flight attendant for years and lived with them, as so many women of her generation did. I remember that after a long flight, she’d always have to put her feet up.
Recently, we stumbled upon this new procedure and she had it done here in Park City. Not long after that, we took a family trip to Disneyland and we were on our feet the whole time. At the end of the second day, I was driving everyone to my mom’s house and I had to stop several times to massage my leg—I had a really nagging, aching feeling. And I just thought, “This is silly. I have to do something about this.”
Spry: I think people tend to associate varicose veins with sedentary lifestyles, which makes you a good spokesperson.
SS: Yes! I like to consider myself a healthy, active person. I also thought of them as being something older people have. So I jumped at the chance to be the younger, healthy face of varicose veins for Rethinkvaricoseveins.com. The website is so useful because it doesn’t take much time to do a self-assessment. There are an estimated 30 million Americans who have this condition and less than 10 percent actually seek treatment.
Spry: You underwent radiofrequency ablation, just one of the in-office treatment options. What was the procedure like?
SS: That’s a good question, because all my friends were grilling me about it! They wanted to know how big the needle was and how long it hurt. I didn’t look at the needle, but I was awake the whole time, chatting with my doctor. I walked out of the room. I was playing with my kids the next day. I couldn’t have run a marathon, but it was nothing that took me out of commission. Though you could milk it for the night and have your husband make you dinner!
Spry: When Dara Torres medaled in 2008 at age 41, was there any part of you that thought, “Maybe I’ll go back to the Olympics?”
SS: Absolutely not! (laughs) I’m a very good cheerleader now. I love to see Dara and Janet Evans and women of my generation going for it. But it would just take so much of my time and energy, and I love being a commentator.
Spry: Who are you excited to watch in London this year?
SS: This is the coolest part about the Olympics. Only a few people right now know the budding stars, but I guarantee you that the country will know Missy Franklin’s name. She’s amazing. She’s 16, she’s from Denver and she has such a great head on her shoulders, even under the pressure. I think she’s going to bring in tons of medals—and be around for a long time.
Spry: How do you stay in shape these days?
SS: I love to run. I was out in the park this morning. Running for me is easy because my life ever since the Olympics involves a lot of travelling. At home, I like to bike.
I also try to fit in yoga. Actually, I’ve turned a lot of my girls’ nights out into a more athletic night out. We’ll go do yoga and then a movie and dinner. Fifteen minutes into yoga, I’m already thinking about what I’m going to order for dinner, but that’s OK!
Spry: Do you still swim?
SS: Oh yes, I love to swim still. My kids and I get in the pool at least a couple times a week. Once I hop into the pool, I turn into a kid again!
Spry: How have you approached teaching your kids about the importance of exercise?
SS: I think you can lead them by example. I trained for a marathon last year, and all summer long I was training and my kids knew. They were my little coaches. They’d say, “Why didn’t you run today?” (laughs)
Spry: What are your favorite healthy snacks?
SS: For my kids, I’m a big fan of chocolate milk. I learned that from the USOC dietitians—they’d always tell me to have chocolate milk after my practice. Other after-school snacks they like are cereal or apples and peanut butter.
For myself, I’m a huge fan of nuts and dried fruit. I’ll mix that with a little bit of Special K or Kellogg’s low-fat granola and keep that with me. I’m a big snacker!
Check out our Q&A with NYU’s Dr. Mark Adelman for more on varicose veins and treatment.