Amanda Beard, who won two silver medals in the 1996 Olympics at the age of 14, opens a window into her soul in her book titled In the Water They Can't See You Cry. She admits to habitually cutting her arms to gain more control of her life. She reveals her ongoing battles with bulimia, forcing herself to vomit out of fear of getting too overweight. She opens up about all the fighting she did with boyfriends such as an Australian Olympic swimmer and a NASCAR driver. She describes the times she took drugs at parties. She shares her family story in which her mother and father divorced when she was 12 years old, and how her family didn't really talk about this much.
In some ways the book makes you feel sorry for her. Battling all that she has in her life-and being so open about it-is admirable and rare. She takes the chance of revealing what many people simply will not.
On the other hand, I come away from this book feeling that this woman had an awful lot of good fortune so why did she have so many self-esteem problems and so many difficulties? Do you know how many swimmers would give almost anything to win even one medal at an Olympic event? She was insanely fortunate to win three at the age of 14, two silvers in the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke, respectively, and a gold in the women's relay event. Tens of thousands of woman have sacrificed huge chunks of their lives to achieve this and never did. Beard was incredibly fortunate to reach such heights.
Her swimming good fortune didn't end there. She qualified for three more Olympics and won a total of seven medals. She was a phenom swimmer. Yes, she worked hard and was ultra-competitive. But so were so many other swimmers who never qualified for the Olympics. She doesn't seem to fully appreciate how special her achievements were, ones that very few swimmers get to enjoy. While she liked swimming stardom and astronomical success, many hard-working swimmers tasted none of that.
Because of her swimming achievements, and her knock-out good looks, she has been able to make a fine living. She has landed many lucrative modeling jobs including posing partially nude in a sports magazine. All this she did because she could swim blazing fast and was born with good looks, piercing blue eyes that draw men in and a tan. Like with swimming, there are countless women who would be pleased if they were half as beautiful as Beard.
Yet she complains about her life constantly in this book. She evidently didn't think she was all that beautiful and often complains about how overweight she was and how her figure wasn't what she had hoped. She should have been more appreciative for being so good looking; complaining about her looks showed a shallow side to her character. Maybe she really believed her figure wasn't nice. But this just showed how she valued relatively unimportant things, and didn't appreciate her life and special gifts as much as she should have. Plenty of people wish they were better looking yet accept it rather than make themselves throw up to get thinner.
Having bought her book, I feel manipulated by her as I suspect much of her life has been about her manipulating people. I bought her book because she's a beautiful woman and great swimmer and I wanted to understand more about her life. She knew many men like me would fall for this because she has been fortunate enough to be as gorgeous and talented as she has been. She's making money off of me just as she did magazine buyers who want to see her body almost completely bare.
The most important passage in the book comes near the end when she addresses whether she would want her two year old son to be a swimmer:
When people ask if he's going to be a swimmer, I say I hope not. I know how much you have to invest for what usually turns out to be little in return. I'm one of the lucky ones in that I made it to the Olympics. I'm even luckier that I went four times and outrageously lucky that I was able to turn my swimming success into a career that pays the bills. Still, it's staggering when I think about how much time and energy swimming has consumed in my life. An athlete has to sacrifice everything for her sport-something few do for any job or anyone...I wouldn't want my son to go through the ups and downs I went through, especially at the young age they were introduced to me. I want him to worry about the prom, not performing in front of millions of people. As I say, though, I wouldn't change a thing about my life. It has been an amazing roller coaster of experiences. I guess it's a mom's prerogative to not want her child to suffer-even though it's a condition of my life.
Imagine all the swimmers who suffered when Bear out-touched her in races especially those that determined who went to the Olympics? They never got to the taste the glory Beard did. They don't get the modeling jobs she does. They don't get to write books that people buy because they are not famous like she is.
While I admire Beard for being honest about her life and her swimming competitiveness, I come away thinking she has had a pretty great life and should be more appreciative of all the extraordinary good fortune that has come her way. Everyone has problems and she admits to hers. But winning as much as she did meant that many others-who sacrificed just as much if not more pursuing swimming glory-- lost to her. I feel more sorry for them than I do her.