Brooke was a phenom with Louisville’s Lakeside SeaHawks, setting her first state record at age 8 and reaching No. 1 in the nation in the 50-meter butterfly by age 9. State records, national teams, international meets, Forde was a rising star and already down the path of swimming’s elite.
“One thing that makes it hard is the expectation that the Olympics should be your goal,” Forde said. “It’s a goal that gets imposed upon you. People just expect that you’re going to the Olympics because there really isn’t any other higher level in swimming. There’s nothing else to shoot for.”
As a freshman, Forde told Greg Meehan, Stanford’s Paul A. Violich Director of Women’s Swimming and U.S. women’s Olympic team coach, that she did not want to feel as though she was training for the Olympics. That pressure would come later.
“I didn’t want that hanging over me,” she said. “I said, ‘All right Greg, you can train me for the Olympics, but don’t tell me that’s what you’re doing.’”
It wasn’t until the 2020 postponement that Brooke admitted to herself that the Olympics were important, because the disappointment was so real.
Brooke was ready for Tokyo. She was second in the 400 IM at both the 2018 and 2019 long-course nationals, and in position for a top-two finish at the Olympic Trials and a spot on the U.S. team.
“She had had her sights focused on 2020 for so long that when it got postponed, it wasn’t just a matter of, I’ll just keep training for another year,” Tricia said. “It was this whole up-ending of everything she had been focused on.”
Training during the lockdown was inconsistent and unreliable. Brooke was at home for a while, then training at a relative’s condo complex in Florida, back to Louisville, then back to Palo Alto, where she was required to find off-campus housing.
Complicating matters, Brooke tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced into quarantine. When she resumed training alongside Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel with Meehan’s pro training group, Forde was hampered by shoulder issues. Her training splits were too slow, her confidence wavered, and the single mindedness of training for a brutal event was mentally draining. She began to loathe the 400 IM.
“Is this really worth it?” she asked herself.
Anxiety was building and there was no outlet. Life in a pandemic meant total immersion in limited areas. For Brooke, it was all swimming.
“I think we all picked up on it,” Meehan said. “More than any other event I’ve ever coached over the years, it’ll mess with people’s heads.”