Olympic gold-medalist visits Olympic Aquatic Club Swimmers

Olympic Aquatic Club’s name is beginning to have a dual meaning — not only standing for its proximity to the peninsula, but for its ability to produce and draw Olympic swimming talent.

Olympic Aquatic Club’s name is beginning to have a dual meaning — not only standing for its proximity to the peninsula, but for its ability to produce and draw Olympic swimming talent.

It’s no secret that Kitsap native and Bremerton High School graduate Nathan Adrian is a three-time Olympic swimming gold-medalist. Sisters Tara and Dana Kirk grew up swimming together at Olympic Aquatic Club and went on to swim together on the 2004 United States Olympic team.

This Saturday Amanda Beard, one of U.S. swimming’s most well-known female athletes, spent the day speaking with and teaching young swimmers from around central Kitsap County at the Olympic High School aquatic center.

Beard earned seven medals in her four appearances at the Olympic Games from 1996 to 2008. She was twice voted American Swimmer of the Year, an honor she shares with the likes of Katie Hoff and Natalie Coughlin on the women’s side and Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte for the men’s.

Beard was only 14 years old when she swam in her first Olympic Games in 1996, racing to a gold medal and two silvers. Beard gained notoriety at those games for becoming one of the youngest American medalists in swimming history, and for the teddy bear, Harold, that she brought with her to every race.

Now, 17 years and three Olympic Games later, Beard has turned her eye to teaching and inspiring young swimmers, many of whom are around the same age she was when she first went to the Olympics.

Her visit Saturday included morning and evening sessions teaching fundamentals and a 90-minute inspirational speech. She didn’t get in the pool, as she is seven months pregnant with her second child, but it didn’t prevent her from enthusiastically coaching from the pool deck.

Beard’s sister, Taryn, coaches the age group and developmental swim groups for the aquatic club and was instrumental in bringing Beard in for the clinic.

“I thought it would be fun to do it for (Taryn’s) team,” Beard said. “I think it’s great to be able to inspire.”

Beard said while a portion of her goal Saturday was to inspire kids, a large part of her role was simply to teach them the fundamentals necessary to swim at a high level.

“Even if it’s something that they’ve been told a hundred times by their coaches, it helps to hear from somebody different,” she said.

Karen Guyt, board vice-president of Olympic Aquatic Club, said Beard’s visit helped breathe fresh air into the kids’ swim season.

“In the spring they get into this funk,” Guyt said.

According to Guyt, her own daughter had decided this winter that she wanted to stop swimming. Her daughter attended Beard’s talk on Saturday, and when it ended she told her mom she’d like to think about starting up again.

Swimmers from age five and up train and compete with the aquatic club. Many of them practice five days a week all year-round. Senior group coach Greg Mercer admitted the training schedule can begin to drain on young swimmers.

“It can be a kind of grating sport sometimes,” Mercer said. “Having the kids see an Olympian, that puts a lot of love in the sport for them.”

Mercer said Amanda has influenced the team’s training even before her visit. Mercer said Taryn often talks shop with her sister and brings the result of those conversations to practice.

“I just met (Amanda) today,” Mercer said, “but she still influences what we do an a somewhat daily basis.”

Mercer grew up in Kitsap County, swimming in Port Orchard throughout his childhood. He swam competitively in Kitsap County around the same time as Nathan Adrian. Mercer said, while the swimming was already competitive at that time, he thinks Kitsap swimming has come a long way in recent years.

“The teams are bigger and overall on a wide scale I think the kids are faster,” Mercer said.

Guyt also spoke confidently of the talent in Kitsap County.

We have a lot of Olympic-calibre swimmers,” Guyt said. “Maybe because it’s cold and wet and rainy and it’s something you can do year-round.”

Beard said the level of talent in western Washington and Kitsap County is a strange but telling phenomenon.

“I think it’s unusual,” Beard said. “Washington is doing something right.”