Candid though bland memoir of an athlete juggling award-winning aquatic prowess with hobbling insecurities.
In straightforward prose, seven-time Olympic medalist Beard recounts her bubbly childhood with her family amid the manicured lawns of sun-drenched Irvine, Calif. Her blooming obsession with neatness, order and compulsive “Windexing” sparked high-energy sports participation, beginning at age four. Swimming eventually trumped all else (“Water had become my getaway”), and the author began years of dedicated training with competitive clubs. Bolstered by the full support of her family, Beard qualified to compete in the 1996 Olympics at 14, where she won a gold medal and two silver. However, in addition to the emotional toll of her parents’ unanticipated separation, the author faced the embarrassment of late-onset puberty, mild dyslexia and the pressure to deliver self-confident performances in a sport she considered “incredibly monotonous.” Determined training sessions throughout her youth became marred by botched romances (including a relationship with NASCAR star Carl Edwards), bulimia, drug experimentation and depression-fueled self-inflicted “cutting” that persisted well into adulthood. Still, the photogenic Olympian (who posed for Playboy in 2007) went on to win 21 medals to date. Now 30, Beard writes gushingly about her supportive husband, new baby and a happier life with an anticipated return to the Olympic arena. Though the narrative tone and delivery remains amiably direct, this style leaves little room in an awkwardly stiff, workmanlike portrait for much-needed personality.
For sports junkies fascinated by determined athletes back in the game after near emotional ruin.