Her Town Joked When 17-Yr-Old Alaskan Swimmer Trained With Whales. Now She's Won An Olympic Gold

Her Town Joked When 17-Yr-Old Alaskan Swimmer Trained With Whales. Now She's Won An Olympic Gold

Lydia Jacoby won the gold medal for the Women's 100m Breaststroke Final on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo.

Lydia Jacoby, a 17-year-old swimmer, pulled a surprise victory in the 100-meter breaststroke on Tuesday to win gold at the Olympics. The teen is from a small town in Alaska called Seward with a population of 2,800 people, where she is somewhat of a local hero. Many people in the town often joked that Jacoby trained with whales and sea lions since the town only has one pool for training. That's right, in the entire state of Alaska, there is just one 50-meter pool about 120 miles north of Seward at Bartlett High School in Anchorage. 


When tourists ask where Jacoby trained, Zudy’s Cafe co-owner Judy Odhner would point toward Resurrection Bay, a large body of water bordering the town, surrounded by jagged cliffs, deep coves and alpine glaciers. “They can’t believe our teeny-weeny town has a pool,” she told NBC News. “They’d just as easily believe Lydia trains every day out there with the whales and sea lions. So we went with it. I mean, Lydia’s a real Alaska girl, so it’s believable.” Now, a new recreation center will be built in Seward, with facilities including a brand-new swimming pool, where future Olympians will be able to train. Vice Mayor Tony Baclaan said, “We’ve scheduled a work session tomorrow and I expect the subject of a new pool is going to come up. Lydia had to leave town to train in an Olympic-size pool. So absolutely there is renewed interest in this.”


As for the athlete, at just 17 years of age, she's broken a number of records. She was the first Alaskan to make the U.S. Olympic swim team before she became the first Alaskan swimmer to win Olympic gold. "I was definitely racing for a medal. I knew I had it in me," Jacoby told NBC News after her win. "I wasn't really expecting a gold medal, so when I looked up and saw the scoreboard, it was insane."


Lydia’s parents, Richard and Leslie Jacoby couldn't be prouder. According to USA Today, Richard, “We live in a harbor town and Alaska’s a water state and we’re boat people. Our motivation originally was just to make sure she was comfortable in the water, knew how to swim.” Richard ran sightseeing boats around the small town for several years: “whale watching, glacier viewing, bird-watching type tours,” he said. Currently, Richard teaches cold-water survival at a maritime school. His wife ran tour boats before Lydia was born. “You’ll see pictures I’m sure of Seward,” she said during a previous interview. “It’s the most beautiful place in the world.”


When the Olympics got postponed due to the pandemic, the young athlete was grateful for the extra time to practice. “During COVID, everything shut down, and I was out of the pool for about two months,” she said. “Then when things started opening back up, the only pools open were in Anchorage, so I moved up there with my family, and just because that's not where I live normally, that meant all my friends were on the swim team, all my activities were with the swim team, so it became a bigger part of my life than it ever had been before.”