Lydia Jacoby, 19, just finished her first year at the University of Texas. She was scouted for the swim team when she was only a sophomore in high school. The Alaska born and raised athlete says, “When I started looking at colleges I was really unsure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. At that point, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to swim collegiately.” That changed when UT came courting. “I absolutely loved the coaches Carol and Mitch, so that was the attraction,” she says, “Then I looked into the academics here ,which were great, and obviously Austin is an amazing city, so it all fit.”
Even with the early college admission, Lydia graduated valedictorian of her high school class – while training to become the first Alaska-born swimmer to win a medal at the Olympics when she took gold in the 100-meter breaststroke in Tokyo 2021, at 17-years-old.
Passionate about not being defined solely on her accomplishments swimming, Lydia also sings, writes songs, plays the guitar, piano and loves fashion. She’s even designed a collection of swimsuits with Arena Swimwear. Here’s more in Lydia’s own words from our chat in the back of an Uber, after we left the gorgeous Lake Austin Spa Resort to get her to swim practice on time.
When did you start swimming?
When I was six my parents put me on the team so that I would be water safe.
When did you realize you wanted to swim competitively?
I’ve always been a very competitive person, I saw success at it pretty early and I liked winning my little meets, so I kept going with it.
When did set your sights on the Olympics?
Coming from a really small town, even at a young age people would call me ‘our little Olympian,’ so it was always ingrained in my mind. To have it become a reality is pretty special.
How would you summarize your Olympic experience?
Life-changing. I didn’t even think I had a shot at the team until April, and the Olympic trials were in June. It was the first time I’d competed in a big meet since Covid and I got second to Lily King, who’s the current world record holder and reigning Olympic champion previously in that event. To make the US Team you have to get top two at the Olympic Trials and I thought if I could get top two at that meet I could do it again. So, that’s when I fully embraced the Olympics as a possibility. Then I went into Olympic Trials with the mentality that I’m so young that I have nothing to lose, but I also have this crazy opportunity. I never imaged that I’d come out with a gold medal.
Do you know what you want to do after swimming?
I don’t. Swimming will probably be my life for quite a while, but I like to always be doing a lot of things because I think it’s important not to put your whole identity into athletics. I’d love to work in fashion when I’m older. I used to think I wanted to work in high-fashion, but it’s been really fun working with Arena and other athletic companies and be more on that side of it. I have a lot to figure out, but I have a lot of cool opportunities.
What was the process like designing your own collection of swimwear with Arena?
It was so fun. It’s an Italian brand and their US headquarters are in Portland so they flew me there and I worked with their designer. She’d had some mood board drawings I’d done and it was so much fun to see it come to life.
How much do you train?
A lot, a lot! For summer schedule I have nine practices a week plus three lifts a week.
When did you know breaststroke was your race?
I’ve always been a breaststroker, I’ve just always had the knees for it. It takes a lot of weird flexibility in your hips and knees, but I started doing it so young that it’s just how my body moves.
Do you have any pre-swim rituals?
Nothing specific. I do like to have pasta the night before I race. I always get to the pool at least 90 minutes before I race, stretch, warm up.
What are challenges of being a competitive swimmer?
At times it can be pretty monotonous. I’m swimming and lifting so often and you can definitely get lost in it and put too much of yourself into it. That’s why I think it’s super important to have other interests and other hobbies. School has been great, it’s important to stay well-rounded so you don’t put too much of your identity into the sport.
What do you like about Austin?
I love all the food, there’s amazing food here. There’s also a lot of fun music and art and a lot of fun creatives here, which I think is awesome.
What do you miss about Alaska?
I miss my dog. And you take Alaska for granted a lot growing up there, but it’s an absolutely stunning place to grow up. Not that Austin isn’t beautiful, but coming here has showed me not to take that unreal beauty for granted.
When do you find out if you made the team for the 2024 Olympics in Paris?
Olympic Trials for swimming are a month before the Olympics and everything comes down to Olympic Trials, only the top two in each event make it, so if you get a stomach flu or something you’re not going, it doesn’t matter how well you’ve done for the last four years. So, all you can do is train.
What advice do you have for young athletes hoping to get to the Olympic level?
The biggest thing as cheesy as it sounds is to enjoy it. I think it can be easy to get lost in the idea that you can’t take any breaks and can’t do other things, and that’s not true. I thought Covid would change the mentality that if you take a single day off you’re going to be trash at it because we all took two to six months off and everybody came back with world records being broken, but there’s still that mentality in swimming. So, I’d say make sure that you love it and the love for your sport will nurture your ability.
You’re a role model for a lot of people, who’s been a role model for you?
Jessica Hardy has always been my role model in swimming. She did a clinic in Alaska when I was little and she’s a former Olympian in my event and is absolutely incredible. I’ve always looked up to her and she really helped me through the Olympic process.
Do you have a better time than her now?
No, not yet. Soon.
Do you have plans for the summer apart from training?
There’s a really cool swim tour I did last year called Mare Nostrum that goes from Barcelona to Monaco to Southern France. It’s a privately owned tour so it’s just fun and laidback and the athletes there swim really, really fast but it’s more relaxed because there aren’t any medals at stake or anything. Things like that are fun because you actually get to know athletes from other countries, whereas at the Olympics there’s a lot more pressure so people stay to themselves.
Do you think it’s harder or easier when you know the person you’re competing against?
I don’t mind either way. I’m never one of those people who’s super aggressive towards their competitors. One of my best friends is my training partner and one of my biggest competitors in my event. We’ve talked about it, but it’s the way that you frame it, you’re competing with someone rather than against them and at the end of the day your result is your result and if someone beats you, it’s only on you.
City you’d like to visit? Paris. I’ve been a few times, just for fun, which is weird because usually my trips are for swimming.
Favorite food? Chocolate.
Favorite quote? “What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” – Eric Hanson
If you could have lunch with anyone who would it be? Maybe Rhianna.
Favorite social media platform? Instagram
Favorite person to follow on Instagram? One of my favorite fashion influencers is Leonie Hanne
Clothes from estilo boutique
Bathing Suit Lydia's collection for Arena
Jewelry from Korman Fine Jewelers
Sunglasses L'Ecurie Paris