By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, September 21, 2018
Multiple Olympic medalist Amanda Beard has come a long way since she stole the hearts of the world as a precocious 14-year-old carrying her teddy bear onto the deck at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Today, she’s a wife to husband, Sacha Brown, and mom to two athletic, active children – son, Blaise, who is 9, and daughter, Doone, who is 5 – and runs a swim school that bears her famous name and serves 800 children of all ages in Gig Harbor, Washington.
Her Olympic medals are stored away for safe keeping – making a recent appearance at her son’s Olympic show-and-tell day at school.
And that famous teddy bear – the one she clutched on the awards podium in Atlanta after winning silver in both the 100 and 200 breast events – is safely stored in its own protective plastic case.
Life is definitely busy and fulfilling these days – and she loves every minute of it.
“My kids know I swam, but they’re not quite at the ages where they understand that I was an Olympian or what a big deal that is, although Blaise did hear my story at school at his Olympic Day and they like looking at my medals,” said Beard, who met her photographer husband at a photo shoot while she was still competing.
“Both of my kids know how to swim – I made sure of that – but my son loves playing baseball when he’s not swimming summer league, and my daughter is learning at my swim school.”
Beard and her family relocated to the Pacific Northwest five years ago from their Arizona home when they saw an opportunity to open a swim school in a region devoid of swim opportunities.
As a mother and someone who had been involved with different charitable work, Beard said she saw a need for water safety and drowning prevention in their new, small community.
“I’m from California and lived and trained in Arizona for years, so I’m definitely more of a sun person, but I love living here in the Pacific Northwest,” she said. “Both of my parents grew up here and went to Washington State, so I visited the area often on vacation as a kid. We were on vacation once time, and we loved it, so we asked ourselves what’s keeping us from staying? So we did.”
With the help of business partner and former high school friend and Irvine Novaquatics teammate Bobby Brewer (who also was her former agent), she secured financial backing from investors to build a pool in Gig Harbor.
Together with Sacha, they run the school and Beard is full-in and completely dedicated to making it a success. She said she’s onsite or working in some capacity six days a week minimum and is at the school from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. – but still makes time for her family.
“There’s a pool at the local YMCA and the high schools have pools, but none of them could accommodate what we needed when we needed access to the water,” she said. “So we built our own pool and have worked really hard to build our brand in the area.
“It’s been a scary experience, but we’ve really loved every minute of it. We saw a great opportunity to create something here, and now we’ve done it. And I love working with the kids. There’s nothing quite like seeing a child who is afraid of the water or can’t float gain confidence and swim across the pool or run onto the pool deck because they are excited to get into the water. It really lets you know you are doing something important.”
Along with the business savvy she garnered during his competitive swimming days as well as her years as a model and public speaker, Beard says she relies heavily upon her experience when working with the kids and parents.
During her competitive days, she was one of the world’s top breaststrokers – holding the world record in the 200 and winning gold in the event at the 2004 Olympics, her most successful of the four Games in which she competed (1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008).
Following her silvers in Atlanta, she added a gold in the 400 medley relay, and then four years later in Sydney, she added a bronze in the 200. She returned in 2004 to win that gold along with two silver medals (200 individual medley, 400 medley relay), and then, in somewhat surprising fashion after having been away from competition for a while, she made the 2008 team.
And even though she left Beijing without any hardware to add to her collection, Beard was honored by being named a team captain in what would become her final Olympics – and meet.
Although she didn’t retire right away, she didn’t compete in another meet. She had her daughter in 2013 and then moved to Washington in January 2014, and even though she started working out and training to potentially return to Trials in 2016, she quickly realized her heart wasn’t in it and decided to retire.
Beard said she left the sport having learned many valuable lessons that she continues to use every day in her work and personal lives – none bigger or more important than knowing that you can’t be afraid to fail because the best lessons often come from failure rather than success.
“If I hadn’t gone through the ups and downs and had my share of horrible meets and races mixed in with some really great ones, I wouldn’t have had the courage and determination to see my swim school dream through to its reality,” she said. “Life has lots of bumps, and I’ve learned just when you think something isn’t going to happen, if you stick with it, you can make it happen.
“No matter what roadblocks life puts in front of you, you have to have to courage to regroup and find another way around it and make it happen. You can really only know that by experiencing it and knowing it’s possible. That’s definitely something swimming taught me, and it’s been incredibly valuable to me no matter what I’m doing.”