Student-athletes filed into the Yellowjacket Great Room for an opportunity to learn about the struggles even the highest level of athletes deal with. As a part of the Lydia Thering and Joan Hedrick Lecture Series, University of Wisconsin-Superior invited Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard to campus and opened the doors to the public for the event.

This was the final stop for Beard in Superior after she visited with the women student-athletes during lunch and answered questions directed by a mental health professional. She also visited some young swimmers at the YMCA and the local high school swim team.

One two-sport UWS athlete, Bryton Kukowski said it’s really inspiring to have someone like Beard on the campus to learn from.“Being able to bring in a high-level athlete also allows for more exposure to different perspectives and experiences, broadening our horizons and developing a better understanding of the world outside of UWS,” Kukowski said.

Beard started her speech by passing around the Olympic medals she had won in swimming throughout her career. The first was won in 1996 across the country from her home state of California in Atlanta, Ga. This was one of three medals Beard won as a 14-year-old.

Beard’s Gold Medals | Photo by Promethean Staff

Her athletic journey started very young, “By the time I was 13 years old, I qualified to be on the U.S. National team and I didn’t think much of it,” Beard said.

After one event which she won a silver medal, Beard was escorted to the media and remembers one question a reporter asked; “Ms. Beard, how does it feel to lose?”

“That started this weird negative loop in my head, it just took that one comment,” Beard said. She told the crowd how she felt like she had disappointed all of the people surrounding her.

After going back home after the Olympics her training hadn’t felt the same, “I’d go to the pool and I’d dive into that water and it just felt very foreign to me… I felt like I was constantly fighting myself and hitting a wall,” Beard added.

A year after she was still not competing at the same level and began to despise the sport she fell in love with at such a young age, but she was nervous to tell her two biggest believers.

“I had these two huge influences in my life, my coach and my dad, who I was so nervous to tell them that I was walking away from my sport,” Beard said.

Beard’s absence was short-lived as she says it might’ve lasted six weeks. She came back to the sport and after some difficult years competing with the national team she made the next three Olympic teams.

For Kukowski, the vulnerability was something she didn’t expect, “listening to such a successful woman who had gone through what most of us do was very eye-opening. Even with all the struggles she faced, she competed at the highest stage and was so successful in it.”

Since she has finished swimming Beard has been spreading her message of having to deal with mental health issues and turmoil experienced throughout her tough journey back to the top. She extended her reach by taking a new form of storytelling, in 2012 she published her book “In the Water They Can’t See You Cry” where she dives deeper into the backstory of her life.