Dreaming of Rio?
At the age of 26, swimmer Amanda Beard had earned seven Olympic medals, big-ticket endorsements, and the title "World's Sexiest Athlete." But her personal life was far from golden. In her recent New York Times best-selling memoir, "In the Water They Can't See You Cry," Beard candidly discloses the demons that threatened to dash her dreams.
The now happier and healthier 31-year-old mother of one opens up about dreams old and new — including a possible bid for the Rio Olympics.
You’ve said you wanted to be an Olympian from the time you were 10. How did you achieve that dream?
I was only swimming in a summer league, so I begged my parents to allow me to do year-round swimming. It just happened that a half-mile down the street was one of the best Southern California swimming programs. It was a shock to my system, though. In summer league I was undefeated, I was winning all the time — I was the best swimmer. Suddenly, when I joined the year-round program, I was the worst swimmer. After a year, it started to all click again and I excelled. By the age of 13, I was dropping time so rapidly I was on the USA national team.
You were just 14 when you went to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. What was it like to achieve your dream so young?
Everyone thought, “Oh, how can you handle this being so young with the pressure and the stress,” but at that age I was so oblivious to what was going on around me. I knew the Olympics were cool and great to be a part of, but for me, I just loved swimming. I didn’t think too much about it.
Did you have a sense then that you’d achieved your dream and found success?
It was great to compete in an Olympics when I was 14, but after that I struggled with my swimming, but managed to make an Olympics when I was 18. That’s when I realized how special it was, because it wasn’t as easy as when I was 14. I had to train harder, was more aware of what was going on and could truly appreciate it more than when I was a young girl bouncing around the pool deck.
How did you keep yourself motivated through those tough times?
Every day was a different issue, whether it was an injury or I just wanted to be a regular high school kid and hang out with my friends. I think the best thing I did was quit the sport when I was about 16. It only lasted a few months before I realized I didn’t need to be breaking records or on top of an awards podium proving to people what a fantastic swimmer I am. I needed to do it because I love to swim. I took the pressure off myself that, when you’re that young, you can’t handle.
What separates those who achieve their dreams from those who don’t?
I think it comes down to mental toughness and the way you think about yourself when you’re standing up there ready to compete. Some people have already been defeated before they even attempt to do anything. They step up second-guessing themselves and doubting. Others step up full of confidence. You can train and train and train, but it comes down to where your brain is.
Have you finished your swimming dreams?
I have a 3-year-old son and my husband and I would love to have another baby, so I’ll likely take this year off of intense training, but I want to swim through 2016. I’m physically capable of training, and it’s still my passion. As long as I can physically handle it, why not give it another go? I also want to make sure that along the way I’m showing my kids how to work hard for something and how to handle stress and pressure.
What is a dream you’ve achieved that you never imagined for yourself?
Being a New York Times best-selling author is something I never expected to have attached to my name. It’s such a different world and a great honor and something I never thought I’d be able to do.
What do you secretly dream about?
When you train a lot your sleeping and eating schedule is so strict. Now that I’m not training quite so hard, I’d love to take cooking classes. I have a lot of deaf friends, so I want to take sign language classes so I can communicate with them better. I want to catch up on my scrapbooking, which is totally dorky, but I have a scrapbook for my son, and I’m about two years behind!
Do you have new goals you’ve set for yourself?
I would love to be a Division I college coach and be able to share my journey from my swimming career and help other athletes achieve their dreams and their potential. I don’t think I’ll ever stop setting little goals in my life, whether it’s on the level of making the Olympic team or catching up with my scrapbooking.
How do you define the American dream?
It’s having the chance to do it all. To be a mom, an athlete, have a career and be able to balance all those things is the American dream.