At 7, Rachel Forbes didn’t want to just have swim lessons, she wanted to be on a team. First though, came the basics. The instructor asked the kids to do the breaststroke.
Rachel remembers looking over at a boy, about her age, beside her.
“What is the breaststroke?” Rachel asked.
“Well, you move your arms forward like this,” said the boy stretching out his arms. “And you do this frog kick.”
“That’s so descriptive,” Rachel told the boy. She leaped into the water confident she could quickly master this simple stroke.
“I just kind of sank to the bottom,” Rachel said laughing.
Still, she loved the feel of the water, and her younger sister, Emily, soon followed her into the pool.
Now the Forbes sisters are the leaders of Steilacoom’s girls swimming team, and last year they made school history by helping their team to podium finishes in the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relays at the 2A state championships.
Already this season, they’ve made more history, breaking the school record in the 200 medley relay in a meet against Highline. The Forbes sisters, as they’re frequently called, teamed up with Sydney Lange and Megan Murphy to post a 2:02.47.
But Rachel and Emily aren’t the only members of the Forbes family who have made a mark at Steilacoom. Their older sisters. Johanna (2014) and Mary (2016). also swam for the Sentinels.
“We’re a very athletic family so we started off all playing soccer,” Rachel said. “But we were all at different places and so our parents wanted a sport where we would all be at the same place. They decided swimming would be that sport.”
So as kids, club swimming became the primary athletic outlet for the Forbes.
Their parents, Robert and Mary Forbes, both graduated from the United States Military Academy and competed in orienteering, a sport that combines racing with navigation. In 1982 and 1983 Mary was named to the U.S. National Orienteering Team and traveled to Hungary and Czechoslovakia for the World Orienteering Championships. Mary was also named to the “Top 10 College Women” of 1983 by Glamour Magazine.
Robert and Mary J. are both retired Washington Army National Guard colonels.
Rachel plans to attend the USMA as well, but right now she’s focused on adding to the Forbes legacy in the pool.
Johanna was a captain her senior year and helped strengthen the culture of the swim team, coach Kathy Casey said.
“(Johanna) really set the tone that’s carried through these past eight years now,” Rachel said. “We’re a team, we’re a family. She was really good at drawing people in and breaking the cliques. You cheer for everyone, you want everyone to do well. We live in an area where it’s super diverse and multicultural and we all come from very different places. But here we’re united by our love of swimming and our love of Coach Casey.”
It’s partly because of Johanna that Casey, who has coached at Steilacoom since 1995, chose to stay on coaching despite being retired from a 30-year career of teaching in special education.
“Johanna told me I couldn’t retire (from coaching), until Emily graduated,” Casey said. “So I’ve had eight years of Forbes.
“But when you’re having fun and winning it’s hard to leave.”
Emily is a sophomore this season. Last year she not only helped the Sentinels make history in the relays, but she also placed sixth in the state championships in the 50 free and seventh in the 100 free.
Rachel, a senior and captain of the Sentinels, also swam in the state finals in those events and placed 12th and 10th.
So there’s a bit of a rivalry between the two. But they love each other too much to let it go beyond friendly competition.
“If anyone is going to beat me I rather it be my sister,” Rachel said. “I’m so, so proud of her.”
For Emily, having Rachel beside her has pushed her as a swimmer and the support she has received has been invaluable. In her first meet as a freshman nerves got the better of her and she had a disappointing debut.
“I get off deck and I’m just crying, and tears are all over and I’m dizzy,” Emily said. “And I get out of the pool and everyone is like, ‘What’s wrong with Emily? I thought she was supposed to be fast.’ And then Rachel is there right by my side and she’s like, ‘Emily, it’s going to be OK.’ And from then on the season was really good. She helped me realize that it’s OK for you to have this moment, and it kind of humbled me.”
The Forbes’ sisterly bond and competitive edge has permeated through the rest of the team. It’s what has come to define Steilacoom swimming.
Last season, Julie Burlingame took sixth in the state in the diving competition, the only freshman to place in the top eight.
She said Rachel and Emily have helped inspire and encourage her.
“Rachel, even when she wasn’t a captain last year, was really nice,” Burlingame said. “She was very supportive and motivational for everyone.”