There might not be a better athlete to come from Irvine than Amanda Beard, not when you consider her accomplishments in the pool.
Beard is a four-time Olympian, first going as a fresh-faced 14-year-old in 1996, and following that up by swimming in the Olympic Games in 2000, 2004 and 2008. She won seven Olympic medals, including two gold, four silver and one bronze.
A former world record holder in the 200-meter breaststroke, Beard's list of successes in the pool over the past 20 years or so is long and impressive.
She turned her swimming prowess into a successful modeling career, a natural transition for the blue-eyed Southern California native. It was a perfect life, or so it seemed.
Beard had deep, dark secrets. And now, after living a lifetime of ups and downs in her 30 years, she is sharing it all in her book, "in the water they can't see you cry." The book, published by Simon & Schuster and co-written with Rebecca Paley, is available in bookstores now.
Beard has begun a book-signing tour that will take her all over the country, including two stops in Southern California — at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena on Wednesday, and at Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica on Thursday.
She's excited about her latest endeavor, and a little bit anxious, not knowing quite what to expect. But it pales in comparison to what she went through in her teens and early 20s.
Beard suffered from clinical depression which resulted in self-destructive behavior. She became bulimic, she abused drugs and alcohol and she cut herself.
She writes in great detail about what she went through, even beginning the book with one particular instance of cutting when she went too deep into her arm and worried she might bleed to death:
How did I get to this point? I was a three-time Olympic swimmer and world record holder who had appeared on the cover of national magazines in skimpy bathing suits that made everyone think I had all the confidence in the world. I made money in a sport where no one makes any. I owned my home and paid my own bills. Lots of Americans who didn't know anything about swimming knew my name and the face under the goggles. I also had a wonderful boyfriend, who made me feel like the sexiest, smartest, most important woman in the world. And yet I was miserable to the point of this. Bleeding and broken on the bathroom floor. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. Why was I such a loser?
I might have been an idiot, but I didn't want to die. … I opened the door to see (boyfriend) Sacha standing right outside. When he looked at me, I could see in his face just how terrible I was. "What happened," he asked. "I'm so sorry," I said. "I went too deep this time."
Beard said her reasons for writing the book were both therapeutic for herself and in an effort to help others who might be going through similar problems. It was not easy recounting and reliving such difficult times, especially knowing her personal demons would soon be revealed to so many.
"It's awkward in a sense," Beard said by phone from the airport earlier this week, getting her book-signing tour started. "I'm not sitting down confiding in my best friend over coffee. I'm putting it on paper and putting it out there for everyone to read and to know these very personal things about my life. It was a difficult process."
Beard writes about growing up in Irvine with her mom and dad, Dan and Gayle, and her older sisters Leah and Taryn. Her parents split up when she was 12, but she describes Irvine as a "perfect" place to grow up, even though she didn't think so when she was there.
"Living and growing up in Irvine — and I was there from the day I was born until I was 18 and went off to college [University of Arizona] — I thought it was extremely boring, nothing exciting ever happens here, but looking back it was that perfect childhood place to grow up," she said.
Living in Irvine also spurred competition on so many levels, and sometimes that competition wasn't entirely healthy.
"Orange County in general, there are so many gorgeous people, successful people, great athletes, there's a lot of greatness all around you so you can kind of get sucked into that world of trying to live up to that," she said. "There's definitely that sort of pressure in that area."
Beard said the pressure to succeed came from herself and not anyone else. Not from her parents, not from her coaches.
"One of the greatest things my dad did with me was he never made me go to practice," Beard said. "If I woke up at 5 a.m. for a morning practice and I said, 'Dad, I don't feel like it,' he'd go, 'OK' and just close the door. But he also made me responsible for my athletics. So if I didn't want to go to practice, he'd say, 'OK, but call your coach and explain to him why you're not going to be there.' I didn't want to face that, so I'd just get up and go."
The drive to succeed was really unavoidable when she changed swim clubs, going from the Colony Red Hots to the prestigious Irvine Novaquatics when she was 12.
"You go from a summer league team where you swim two months in the summertime, you train for an hour a day, you're having fun, and Friday is always Friday fun day," Beard said, "to 10 training sessions a week, five hours a day. Long, intense swim meets, traveling all over the country. And there's that expectation of putting their athletes onto an Olympic team. It's night and day."
Beard said her family has read the book and is proud of her, Beard saying her mom called her "brave" for writing the book. And though it details her deepest, darkest moments, it has a happy ending. Beard now lives in Tucson, Arizona with her husband Sacha Brown and their 2-year-old son Blaise.
She still trains in the pool regularly, but she is enjoying living a "regular" life now, as she conveyed in the book's final pages:
Though I work to enjoy my mostly wonderful life — whether it's having a date every now and then so Sacha and I can have a meal without Blaise shooting a Nerf gun in our faces, or letting my son cover me in glitter in an arts-and-crafts explosion — new problems pop up every day. The coffee machine breaks, Blaise pukes on the way to school, I've gained a few pounds, I'm not sure what lies ahead for me after swimming. But it's how I roll with the punches, not how I avoid them, that defines my happiness.
AMANDA BEARD BOOK SIGNINGS
Monday, University of Arizona Bookstore, Tucson, AZ, 4-5:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, AZ, 7-9 p.m.
Wednesday, Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, 7-9 p.m.
Thursday, Barnes & Noble, Santa Monica, 7-9 p.m.