You won’t find any bling displayed in Jenny Thompson’s Daniel Island home. The four-time Olympian turned anesthesiologist doesn’t like to show off her 12 Olympic swimming medals, eight of which are gold.
“I think they’re interesting and fun to look at, but I guess my personality is that I don’t like to flaunt the hardware,” she laughed. “My kids know they exist and think they’re cool, but pretty much the same way they think fake gems are cool.”
The humble mother of two says her swimming career was never about the medals. “I liked the challenge of seeing what I could change in my practice, or my training or my diet – all the things that go into peak performance,” she said. “Also, I really enjoy traveling the world, so that was a big motivator for me.”
And travel she did, competing in the Summer Olympics in Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996, Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004. She toured many other countries on her way to amassing 15 world records and 31 world championships, along with 23 national titles and 26 NCAA titles as a member of the Stanford University swim team.
The Massachusetts native started swimming at age 7 and qualified for the Junior Nationals at age 12, after which her mother moved her and her three older brothers to New Hampshire so Thompson could train with a national coach who helped her become one of the greatest swimmers of all time.
Thompson describes her mother, Magrid, who died of cancer in 2004, as her biggest advocate who attended all her competitions. “She was a very positive person, always very supportive of whatever our passions were, and for me that was swimming.”
After graduating from Stanford and winning four medals in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Thompson retired from swimming and moved back east to begin medical school at Columbia University and help care for her ailing mother. But she couldn’t stay away from the water for long, and she took to the pool to relieve stress.
“I started swimming again for mental health,” she said. “It was a growing up experience to not only start medical school, but also help my mom who was sick with cancer,” Thompson reflected. “It made swimming a lot lighter and put in perspective that there’s a lot more to life than sports. It was interesting to compete with that kind of wisdom.”
Thompson decided to take a year off from school and returned to the world swimming stage, winning five medals at the 2003 World Championships in Barcelona and two more at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
“One of my most cherished memories was at my final World Championship in Barcelona and I won the 100 butterfly. I looked up in the stands and I saw my mom standing and waving and smiling even though she was very weak from chemotherapy,” Thompson
said. “That was her final swim meet.”
Thompson earned her medical degree in 2006 and worked in Maine for several years before moving to Daniel Island in 2018 with her husband, Dan Cumpelik, and their two sons, Benji and Ryder.
“We tolerated enough frigid winters and I was ready for a change of pace with my job,” Thompson said. “We thought it would be a great opportunity for our kids to live the good life outside for more months of the year than we could in Maine.”
Thompson works as an anesthesiologist helping patients at Charleston’s VA Medical Center.
When she’s not in the operating room, she can be found with her family bicycling around Daniel Island looking for alligators or swimming at the Crow’s Nest pool, happy to be surrounded by water.
• Favorite Southern meal: Shrimp and grits
• Number of Olympics you've attended: Six — four as a competitor, two as a
• Who's your biggest fan? My 4 year old.
• Best thing about being a doctor: Being part of the healing process
• Favorite sport besides swimming? Beach cruising on our bikes