Elizabeth Beisel competes at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 on on Aug. 6, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Even with her many years on the USA Swimming national team, including three trips to the Olympic Games, Elizabeth Beisel said that writing a book was never on her bucket list.
After she retired and started speaking about her experiences at public engagements and clinics, however, people routinely approached her afterward to ask if she had a book and then ask, why not?
“After three years I was like, I’m at a good place, it’s a good time, I have the energy to do it so let’s get it on paper,” said Beisel, 27, from Saunderstown, Rhode Island. “That was the small snowball that turned into a book.”
Beisel released “Silver Lining” over the winter, and the book tracks her experiences primarily beginning as a 13-year-old making her national team debut through her trips to the Olympics in 2008, 2012 and 2016. She explores not only the achievements and the career highs but also some of her challenges, doubts, fears and setbacks along the way.
Opening up about the lows was much harder than talking about what it felt like to stand on the Olympic podium, she said, but it was important to show the whole picture of life as an elite swimmer.
“I wanted to be as honest, raw and vulnerable as possible,” she said. “There’s no sense in publishing a book from a surface level that just says, ‘I had a great career, thanks for reading, bye.’ I wanted it to be real, and I wanted people to connect to it whether they’re an Olympic swimmer or a recreational soccer player. The hard (stories) to tell were the ones that I maybe filed away in the back of mind for so long because they hurt so much or I didn’t want to revisit them mentally. I finally got to a place where I was OK opening pandora’s box and going through the hard times and the good times. I think it’s a very good balance between the struggles and the failures and the adversity and then also the successes and triumphs.”
Beisel made her first U.S. national team at the age of 13 and competed at her first world championships in 2007 at just 14 years old. An individual medley and backstroke specialist, she then became the youngest member of the U.S. swim team at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008. She finished fourth in the 400-meter IM and fifth in the 200-meter backstroke.
She went on to swim collegiately at Florida, where she became the NCAA champion in the 200 backstroke in 2012 and in the 400 IM in 2013, in addition to winning numerous SEC championships and awards, including female swimmer of the year in 2012.
That same year she returned to the Olympics for a second time and won the silver medal in the 400 IM and bronze in the 200 backstroke. She retired in 2017 with three world championships medals — including the 400 IM gold in 2011— in addition to her two Olympic medals.
One of the challenges, she said, was picking which stories to tell from the span of her long career. The process took about two years, from putting together an outline, reaching out to former teammates and coaches to get their recollections from various events and determining which stories she wanted to include, all then getting down to the nitty gritty of writing. She enlisted the help of a local friend who she met through open water swimming in Rhode Island, Beth Fehr, who also happened to be a writer.
“It was so fun revisiting all those incredible moments,” Beisel said. “I’d rewatch my races over and over and make sure the way I depicted it in the book was they way I felt and then reconnect with teammates and coaches and everyone who was so pivotal in my career. Honestly, the most enjoyable process was reconnecting with so many people. It takes a village for an athlete to go from a 5-year-old swimmer to someone who’s on the Olympic podium. To be able to truly thank each and every person who played a role in my career by writing this book made me feel so good. It was more for the people who helped me become the athlete I was and to show people you can be a small town girl from Rhode Island like I am and do amazing things.”
The title of the book, Beisel said, comes from not only the color of her best Olympic medal but also from the act of finding the bright side in dark places and hope during struggle.
“I really hope readers take away a feeling of inspiration and motivation and just happiness,” said Beisel, who recently competed on the reality show “Survivor” and has been in talks with NBC and ESPN about doing some sideline reporting and commentating both for swimming and other sports. “It ends on a really, really high note. I want people to know you don’t have to have all the athleticism in the world to become somebody. If you have dreams and aspirations, go after them.
“I think going after a dream is so much better than sitting on the sideline and watching life go by and being complacent. That’s what I hope people will get out of it, and I think people will appreciate swimming more as a sport. It’s one of those once-every-four-years sports to a lot of people, but I hope it will educate people more about the sport and the time and sacrifice we put it into it as swimmers.”