Journey to Tokyo: Arkansas swimmer overcomes heart problem, aims to compete in Olympic trials

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- The Olympic Games are now more than a year away, but for many athletes, the pursuit of a dream won’t stop.

That’s true for Arkansas native Hayden Harlow, who has had to endure more than just a dream being delayed.

Hayden also had to fight for his life.

“It kind of took off right away,” said Hayden Harlow.

Swimming came naturally for Harlow.

“I kept going to practices and meets,” Hayden Harlow said.

At 9 years old, the pool became his passion.

“I kind of fell in love with it right off the bat,” recalled Harlow.

Soon after he dove into swimming, he discovered a heart problem.

“So that certainly was a speed bump in my career,” Hayden Harlow said.

He persisted through the problem for roughly a year until Hayden’s mother took him straight to the emergency room.

“I picked him up from practice one day, and he said, ‘Mom, my heart hurt,” Tracy Harlow, Hayden’s mother, recalled. “His heart rate was stuck at 250 beats per minute.”

The family decided on surgery when Hayden was 14.

“He was in surgery for about five hours,” Tracy Harlow recalled.

The surgery was successful and years later as a senior in high school, he was given a scholarship to Penn State.

“It’s really nice to see things come full circle, competing up there,” Tracy Harlow said.

“Going to the Olympic trials is kind of that ultimate goal because it gives you that opportunity to have a chance of making the Olympic team,” Hayden Harlow said.

Lap after lap and struggle after struggle, it’s not enough to keep Hayden Harlow from his dreams, and despite a pandemic, Hayden says he’s eyeing a senior lap in the pool culminating with the Olympic trials now next year.

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