Less than four months before the 2012 London games coronates a new set of athletic heroes, U.S. swimming legend Amanda Beard is taking on the darker side of Olympic success.
In a memoir entitled In The Water They Can’t See You Cry, Beard reveals her multipronged struggles against depression, bulimia, self-mutilation and drug abuse—all while becoming one of the most recognizable athletes in swimming history.
Beard entered the public eye in 1996 when, as a stuffed-bear-toting 14-year-old, she won three medals at the Atlanta games.
Over the next decade, Beard went from tween idol to full-blown sex symbol. She posed nude for Playboy, appeared in a typically salacious GoDaddy.com commercial, and of course, kept right on winning. Beard won seven Olympic medals from 1996 to 2004.
Behind the golden-girl veneer, Beard was fighting demons all too common among the child-star set—parent's divorce, heightened outside expectations, parasitic companions and a crippling lack of self-worth.
So Beard turned to vice. Alcohol and drug abuse triggered a mental health crisis that would eventually lead to chronic bouts of self-mutilation.
An excerpt released in today's New York Daily News gives a stark portrayal of a cutting episode gone awry.
Something had to happen. Something had to be done to release the pressure, or it would be released by my exploding. I was going to scream my head off, smash the bathroom mirror or grab one of those tiny little eyebrow razors and cut my arm.
I knew immediately. Something was wrong. The calm that usually washed over me as soon as I made my light little cuts with their delicate beads of blood was replaced by a new fear. In the moment when thinking was not possible and the energy took over, I must have applied too much pressure, because one of the cuts gushed blood. This was not in control.
Within a second or two, blood spread across my arm, dripping down from my elbow to the white tile floor below. It was getting all over the place, on my tank top, my jeans, my feet.
Beard offered first glimpses of her mental health history in a 2010 New York Times article. The response, she said, was so overwhelming that she went forward with a book detailing her painful struggle and subsequent recovery.
Buoyed by the support of her husband and young son, the 30-year-old says she's finally come to grips with her troubled past. She hopes her book inspires those with similar problems to seek help.
The book's release and publicity tour coincide with Beard's attempt to qualify for a fifth consecutive Olympic games. In 2008, Beard did not medal for the first time in her Olympic career.
U.S. team trials are scheduled for late June.