By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, February 20, 2020
Even though she was a journalism major at Florida and kept a journal since she was little, Elizabeth Beisel never thought about writing a memoir of her swimming and life experiences before or after she retired in 2017.
It wasn’t until, after several speaking engagements and swim clinics where she talked about her own experiences as an Olympic swimmer, she was told by attendees that she should really write down these stories chronicling the successes and failures of her athletic career in a book.
That book, Silver Linings, was released nationwide last week and has received a very positive response, especially within the swimming world.
“That encouragement from swimmers and parents really got me thinking about it, seriously thinking about it,” said Beisel, who retired from swimming at the conclusion of the 2017 World Championships. “It really hadn’t occurred to me that my experiences were any more special than anyone else’s, so who would want to read a book about me?
“But then when people came up to me after a speaking engagement or clinic and told me they loved hearing my story, and I should think about writing a book of my stories, I thought maybe I did have something to say. The seed was planted.”
As someone who has never been short on words, Beisel said she sat down just a couple of weeks after her climb up Mount Everest in early 2018 and started putting together an outline.
It wasn’t long after that when she began to start recollecting her swimming experiences – delving deeply into her memories and reliving both good and not-so-good experiences.
Along the way, she reached out to past coaches, teammates, family, friends and even competitors to pick their brains and get a more well-rounded perspective about her races, her wins, her losses and her swimming experiences in general.
“It was unexpected at first, but when I talked to (former coaches) Chuck (Batchelor) and Gregg (Troy), they gave me a completely different perspective of my experiences, and that helped flesh out my stories even more,” said Beisel, who finished the manuscript for the book with co-author Beth Fehr last year.
“At that time, I was so focused on my races and race outcomes that I had tunnel vision and only saw my version of my experiences. When I talked to Chuck and Gregg, they were able to provide an outside view of what they remembered seeing me go through, and that made my stories stronger and richer. It was an important part of the book.”
Another important part of the book for Beisel was introspectively looking back on her positive and not-so-positive memories and experiences and taking a long hard look at what the outcomes really meant in her swimming career.
One she said she didn’t fully appreciate at the time was her silver-medal-winning swim in the 400 individual medley at the 2012 Olympics in London.
At the time, she said she felt disappointed that she didn’t swim faster (even though she swam a personal best time) to push herself to win gold.
But while writing the book, she said she began to really analyze and appreciate all that she did prior to and during the race to accomplish what she did.
“(As I was writing) I realized that I did that several times in my career – not appreciating my accomplishment when it happened; I felt very bad for my past self,” she said. “I think it’s because I’m so naturally competitive – always have been – that I couldn’t allow myself to appreciate my accomplishments because then I would be accepting something other than the best.
“But I realized through the writing process that I did my best, and my best should have always been good enough for me. Part of that was never allowing myself to believe my own hype and to not get a big head. At the same time, however, I never truly understood just how good I actually was. But, again, it often takes a change in perspective to realize these things.”
Another funny story that popped up as Beisel started thinking through her book content was how swimming and sports can often come full circle.
When she was 8, she attended her first clinic with Amanda Beard shortly after the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. During the clinic, Beard looked at the group of young swimmers and said one of you will be an Olympian one day – and that really got me thinking about the possibility seriously.
Fast forward to the 2008 Olympics, and Beisel and Beard were on the Beijing Olympic team together, and Beisel, not quite 16 yet, tapped Beard on the shoulder.
“I reminded her about that clinic and how her words positively impacted me to want to also be an Olympian like her,” Beisel said. “I had forgotten about that until I started thinking through the book, and I found a picture of me holding one of her medals. That was particularly special for me.”
Upon completion and publishing of Silver Linings, Beisel said she heard from several past National, World and Olympic team members with congratulations and good wishes – as well as a few words of encouragement and concern because, while these events were happening, they only knew Beisel as the friendly, gregarious swimmer who always smiled and was always happy.
The book revealed that wasn’t always the case.
“(Allison) Schmitty read the book in one sitting and called me in tears because she had no idea I was going through what I was during our time together at the Olympics,” she said. “I heard from Katie Hoff and Kara Lynn Joyce with similar thoughts. They both told me they didn’t know that I experienced what I did and reveal in the book.
We’re all together at these meets and, because we’ve been taught to focus on our races and not be open about how we’re feeling so we don’t show any vulnerability, we often have no idea what each other is experiencing and going through. All I showed them was this outgoing, happy façade, but I had other things happening that I didn’t want anyone to know about.”
Beisel said she’s ecstatic she made it through the book-writing experience, and that the final product is very close to what she envisioned at the beginning of the process.
But it was the surprises along the journey that really made this project truly worthwhile.
“This book was cathartic for me in many ways because it not only helped me work through some past feelings I had ignored or forgotten about but it allowed me to connect with my swimming in a way I hadn’t done before,” she said.
“I wrote this not only for me but to hopefully inspire young swimmers and athletes (and parents) to know that there are successes and failures in sports and life. It’s all about how we choose to use them to improve that makes us true champions in sports and life.”