LONDON (Reuters) - In January, Kathleen Hersey's adopted mother died from colon cancer. On Wednesday she missed out on an Olympic medal by just 0.3 seconds.
Hersey, adopted by Regina and wheelchair-bound Brian Hersey when she was just three days old, was pipped for bronze by Japan's Natsumi Hoshi in the womens' 200 metres butterfly final, her only event at the London Olympics.
The 22-year-old American has fought the demons of her mother's death all year and she felt it was an achievement just to make the U.S. team.
"There is a unique kind of pressure that goes with it," she told Reuters as she wrestled with a maelstrom of feelings.
"It is very unique the situation our family has been in this year. So just to be here is an accomplishment."
Heading into the final, Hersey's thoughts had turned to her mother. She felt her presence all day and nerves had been a factor as the race approached.
"There is a different kind of nervous that goes with going in the final," she said.
"When it is your only race, you kind of rely on it.
"I felt my mum going into the second wall and I felt her all throughout the day."
Hersey, who finished eighth in Beijing, hit the first turn in seventh place, gradually pulled herself up to fourth position but could never quite make enough of an impression to snatch bronze on the line.
World champion Liuyang Jiao swept to gold in an Olympic record time of 2:04.06 ahead of Spain's Mireia Belmonte Garcia in 2:05.25.
Then, depriving Hersey of a dream end to a nightmare year, Hoshi ducked in to claim the bronze medal.
The trio were all smiles on the podium as they posed proudly with their medals and Hersey, who is coached by Eddie Reese, the men's coach at the University of Texas, was left to reflect on what could have been.
She had given everything she had but fell just short, but thoughts again turned to her family and the support she has got from her father, a financial consultant who has been in a wheelchair since the 1980s after a spinal cord aneurysm.
"My father and my uncle, who lives in England, were actually here tonight," she said.
"Having that family support is really helpful and comforting."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)