When trying to figure out what’s the most interesting thing about swimmer Lydia Jacoby, it’s tough to find a starting place.
Is it that she plays bluegrass music, and is part of a musical family that includes a grandfather who makes guitars? Or maybe it’s that she is from Alaska, a state with just one Olympic-size indoor pool? She also likes to take her dog cross country skiing.
Perhaps it’s that at 17, she hasn’t even been to college, but she will be representing the United States in Tokyo in the 100m breaststroke.
Like so many swimmers, Jacoby’s parents wanted her to learn out of safety. Her hometown of Seward is a maritime community, and the Jacobys like to go sailing. Swimming competitively could help keep her safe. From there, she continued to compete and found a tight-knit group of swimmers who supported her. Now, as the first swimming Olympian to come from Alaska, she isn’t swimming just for herself.
“It's been really cool to be able to represent my state, and especially the swim community within my state because we are all so close,” she said. “There are people I have grown up with my whole life, so it's been neat to be able to do this not only for myself but for them.”
And the thing about Alaska is, despite being the largest state by size, everyone knows each other.
“My therapist is actually Holly Brooks, who is a Winter Olympian [in cross-country skiing.] I don't know any of the others personally, but that's one neat thing about Alaska is that we are all just – everybody knows each other, so you really know every Olympian from Alaska just because we get so much publicity, being so small,” she said.
Like so many swimmers, Jacoby found herself without a pool when the pandemic hit. When things opened up some, she and her mother moved to Anchorage, two hours away, where she could continue to swim in the only open pool in the state. With the Olympics postponed, that extra year of focus on swimming was the difference for her.
“I think this extra year of training I've grown physically and mentally. I don't think I would have been prepared last year at all,” she said.
All of her work allowed for the moment at the Olympic Trials where she thought she had touched the wall in time. Maybe.
“When I finished my race I couldn't read the board. I could see the 2 and my name, but I couldn't tell if they lined up. So it wasn't until Lillie gave me a hug and it reshuffled the board that I really realized, and it was definitely a huge moment,” she said.
Before the Olympics, the U.S. swim team heads to Hawaii for a training camp. There, she will get to practice in a 50-meter pool, something she hasn’t had much of an opportunity to do because of the limited pools in her state. Perhaps with that training, she can add an Olympic medal to the list of really cool things about Lydia Jacoby.