In exactly one month, star Seward swimmer Lydia Jacoby will be in the pool in Omaha, Neb., for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
But first, she’s finishing her junior year at Seward High School.
At just 17, Jacoby has the world’s sixth-fastest time for the 100-meter breaststroke. She’s been qualified for the Olympic Trials since she was 14.
“Basically my entire swimming career up to that point has kind of been building up to that meet,” Jacoby said. “So it’s definitely a lot of pressure, I suppose. And in some ways, it doesn’t really feel real.”
Jacoby is ranked third of all time in her age group in the U.S., and 14th of all-time among all U.S. women.
“I do kind of like to impress upon her that she can’t really lose at this point,” said Solomon D’Amico, who’s coached Jacoby in Seward for the last several years. “She’s already done so much.”
Jacoby has been part of the Seward Tsunami Swim Club since she was six.
Over the past year, the pandemic has posed unique challenges for training, she said.
The Olympic Trials were pushed back last year, along with the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. And at the beginning of the pandemic, pools were closed.
“I was out of the water,” Jacoby said.
Even after others opened, the Seward pool stayed closed, in part due to maintenance on the facility. So Jacoby stayed with family in Anchorage over the summer and trained with the Northern Lights Swim Club.
“There’s a lot more kids my age, so it’s just been a lot of fun and motivating training up there,” she said.
Jacoby said Alaska swimming is a great community. Even as her Seward swim friends started picking up other activities and leaving the sport behind, she’d meet swimmers from all over Alaska at statewide meets.
“That was very motivating at that time,” Jacoby said. “Both those things were happening at once: I was meeting new friends around the state, while my friends at home moved onto other things.”
Jacoby’s swimming career will continue after she graduates high school. This year, she committed to the University of Texas at Austin — one of several Division I schools that was wooing her for their team.
“I just felt a really strong connection with the coaches and I feel like they really care about me as a person and a team member and not just a number,” she said.
In college, Jacoby plans to study textile and apparel management and design. She said she’s always loved clothes.
Clothes are one, but not the only, manifestation of Jacoby’s artistic spirit. Right before the pandemic, she had an exhibit of her film photography up in Seward. She also sings and plays guitar, piano and upright bass.
D’Amico said Jacoby’s extremely self motivated across all of her interests. When it comes to swimming, he said, she’s more process than outcome focused.
“Which, as a coach, looking at the sport psychology side of things, that’s really the way you want your athletes to approach things,” he said.
That mentality manifests itself in how she thinks about her Olympic prospects. She has a good shot at making the Olympic team — she came in second at a recent meet behind world-record holder and reigning Olympic champ Lilly King.
But Jacoby said she won’t feel unaccomplished if she doesn’t make the team.
“Where I was a year ago, going into trials before it was postponed — I was nowhere near making the team,” she said. “And I just have so much further to go with my swimming career. This is just the beginning.”
D’Amico agrees. He said at this point, she’s playing with house money.
Watch Lydia Jacoby swim in Mission Viejo here.
Listen to Jacoby and her band, Snow River String Band, here.
Correction: An earlier version of this story’s headline misspelled Lydia Jacoby’s last name.