By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, July 19, 2019
When she hits the water at FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, Brooke Forde may need a few moments to pinch herself before she takes her first stroke.
After all, three years ago at Olympic Trials, the Stanford junior-to-be didn’t make it past prelims in her signature 400 individual medley event – and now she’s on 2019’s biggest team competing at this year’s most important international meet.
It’s all sinking in, but Forde is embracing what’s happening and looking forward to what could be coming next.
“It’s the biggest meet I’ve ever been to, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” she said. “I love that it’s the same group that went to (2018) Pan Pacs together last year because we are all good friends, and I can’t wait to be back with the rest of the USA Team.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a pretty linear swimming journey so far, making an international meet for the past couple of summers and improving my times. Completing one step of the journey or qualifying for one meet has never made it a given that I will move on to the next step, but each summer has given me really valuable experience to allow me to keep getting better.”
Coming from a swimming family – her mom, Tricia, swam at Northwestern and her brothers, Mitchell and Clayton both swam collegiately – it was inevitable that Forde would also swim.
She said their mom had all three kids in the water at a really young age, and although she played a bunch of other sports growing up, Forde was most natural at swimming.
“Once my brothers started looking at swimming in college, I knew I wanted to be a part of that too,” she said.
Having completed her sophomore year at Stanford this past spring, Forde said she remains grateful every day that she has the opportunity and privilege to swim at Stanford and under Coach Greg Meehan.
She said one of the most important things that has helped her to continuously improve has been her teammates.
For her, it’s “really cool” to be surrounded by such talented and driven people for each practice –and it never hurts when you get to work with one of the most talented, successful coaches in the sport.
“I know that’s a huge reason for my swimming success so far,” she said. “I’ve learned to be more confident racing on a bigger stage, because I get to race some of the fastest swimmers in the world every day in practice. It still sometimes hits me randomly during a set when I realize that I have an Olympian on either side of me and how cool it is that I get to be in that position.
“And Greg and (Associate Head Coach) Tracy (Slusser) have obviously also been a huge part of my improvement. They always seem to be able to see my potential almost better than I can, and it’s just really nice for me to be able to trust my coaches so much. I feel like all I have to worry about is putting in good effort each day with my team, and their coaching really does the rest.”
Like most other kids, Forde said she looked up to the Olympic swimmers and dreamed of one day being able to join them as a U.S. Olympian.
But as she got older in the sport, she said she realized how difficult that dream actually is, and never thought of the Olympics as the ultimate goal.
“It seemed very out of reach for me, and college swimming was my main focus,” she said. “I don’t let it add pressure, feeling like I’m expected to make a team just because I did the year before.
“But being on previous trips like WUGs and Pan Pacs has exposed me to a lot of awesome international travel and racing on the biggest stages. Trips with USA Swimming are so much fun, and it always leaves me wanting to qualify for another one.”
Now three years more mature and experienced since 2016 Olympic Trials, Forde knows outside expectations as a top contender to make the 2020 Olympic team add to her own personal goals.
Nonetheless, she’s grateful to have had that experience because she can head into Trials next year knowing what to expect – and also knowing there’s nowhere to go but up next summer in Omaha.
Her recent meet success and experience will play into those outcomes.
“It was really cool to be exposed to that atmosphere and to watch other swimmers qualify for the team, but I personally had a very tough meet,” she said. “I was recovering from meningitis and was very overwhelmed by swimming and college recruiting at the time, so most of my races were pretty disastrous. I think I cried more at that meet than I ever have at a meet in my life.”
“But I’m grateful I had that experience because I can head into Trials next year knowing what to expect (and knowing it can only go up from 2016). While I am in a much different spot going into Trials next year than I was in 2016, my expectations for myself are still just to enjoy racing alongside my teammates.”
Still, based on the success that she has enjoyed the past couple of years, Forde says the Olympics feel like “a more attainable goal” than it did just three years ago.
But she said she still has a lot of work to do to get there – and she’s ready for the challenge.
“There are always new goals to be set in swimming, which makes it easy to keep myself motivated,” she said. “College swimming has added a whole new level of motivation because it is so team oriented. I love competing for the rest of the team, and working together to accomplish something as a group.
“I’m focusing on enjoying the steps (Worlds this summer and college swimming next year) in swimming that will help lead to Trials next year, and then I will be excited to give it my best shot next summer in Omaha.”