At the height of her swimming career, Gig Harbor resident Amanda Beard had won seven Olympic medals for the United States. She was also a successful model, with a mane of amber hair and a surfer-girl physique.
But behind her bright smile, she was hiding physical and emotional turmoil that she didn’t reveal even to close friends, family members or coaches.
Today, after years of struggling with depression, bulimia, drug abuse and bad relationships, Beard has finally emerged into greater strength and peace. She is happily married, a proud mom and will soon be opening a swim school in Gig Harbor.
Beard will share her story at MultiCare Health System’s 16th annual Do Something Healthy event, hosted by the Hotel Murano in Tacoma at 6 p.m. Jan. 21.
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At the event, Beard will talk about her journey of overcoming personal obstacles, drawing on details from her recent memoir, “In the Water, They Can’t See You Cry.”
Beard was only 14 when she walked out onto the pool deck at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, carrying her teddy bear, Harold. Despite her young age, she exceeded expectations that day, winning silver in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke and gold in the 400-meter relay.
Beard went on to compete in three more Olympic games during her teens and 20s, winning a total of seven medals. She has garnered a total of 21 medals in major international competitions.
But despite all of her success, Beard felt unworthy. After her parents divorced and she hit puberty, she began to put more and more pressure on herself. Seeing her modeling images airbrushed and edited only added to the feeling that she needed to be perfect.
With no other outlet except for the pool, Beard coped by engaging in self-destructive behaviors during her teens and 20s. She became bulimic, abused drugs and alcohol and started cutting herself.
“It was the bottom of the bottom for me in my life,” Beard said. “I was living day after day in a funk. It was the only way I knew how to cope with anything, and I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. It just got to be too much.”
Finding healing through community
Beard says that she finally got to a point where she took a step back to reevaluate. She credits her strong support system, including her boyfriend (now husband) Sacha Brown, with helping her turn her life around. Brown guided her to make changes and encouraged her to seek therapy.
“We get into this mindset where we don’t want to be a burden on someone, or don’t want people to think differently of us,” Beard said. “But when we start opening up and talking about these things, so many other people have similar experiences and issues. I think that was really a healing process for me.”
Beard says she realized that she didn’t need to be ashamed about her experiences, or embarrassed to reach out to people.
“There’s nothing wrong with you — you’re not broken. You’re just human,” she said.
Beard and Brown are now happily married, have two small children and recently moved to Gig Harbor, where they are surrounded by friends and family. Beard’s next venture is starting a swim school in Gig Harbor.
“I’ve been involved with drowning prevention for over 20 years, and my passion is ensuring that everyone is water safe,” she says.
The learn-to-swim program will initially focus on children up to age 8, and the school is set to open in 2016.
If you go
What: Multicare Health System’s Do Something Healthy event
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 21
Where: Hotel Murano, Tacoma Bicentennial Pavilion, 1320 Broadway
Seating is limited and registration required. $10 per person. Register online at http://multica.re/1UCNSzl or call 1-800-485-0205.