A Tribute to Lydia Jacoby

by Senator Dan Sullivan

On the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday (June 24th, 2021), Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) recognized Lydia Jacoby, of Seward, a young Alaskan swimmer who will be representing the United States at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in July. Jacoby, just 17 years old, recently swam the season’s second-fastest women’s 100-meter in the world at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. Sen. Sullivan recognized Jacoby as part of his series, “Alaskan of the Week.”

TRIBUTE TO LYDIA JACOBY

Madam President, it is Thursday, and it is my favorite time of the week. I get to come down to the Senate floor typically every Thursday and talk about Alaskans who are doing something amazing for their communities, their State, maybe even their country. Heck, this one is kind of doing something for the world, whom I refer to as the Alaskan of the Week. I love doing it.

We have a really special Alaskan of the Week this week whom I am going to talk about, Lydia Jacoby–a very special 17-year-old who is from Seward, AK. We are so excited about this.

Those of you who have been following our Alaskan of the Week speeches might notice that this is the first new poster board we have had ever. So this is the poster board of the Alaskan of the Week for Lydia because we are so excited about her.

Before I talk about Lydia, I always like to say a little bit about what is going on in Alaska. A lot of people always ask about the light. They are curious about the light in the summer, particularly as we just had our summer solstice. If you want to come up and really see it, come on up. We are open. We would love to have you–a trip of a lifetime.

If you are thinking about coming to Alaska, come to see it yourself this summer. Every American should come on up, but I will give you a hint. On the light that is happening right now, if you were in Seward, AK, where Lydia is from, the Sun will rise at 4:33 a.m. and set at 11:26 p.m., with a loss of just 36 seconds from the summer solstice, which occurred a few days ago. That is a lot of sunlight, and it doesn’t really even get dark when the Sun goes down. It does just for a little bit. So it is a great time to be in the State. Come on up. It is a great time to be in Alaska, and I can’t wait to get home for the recess, our Fourth of July–lots of Sun, lots of excitement.

There is particularly a lot of excitement around this young, intrepid Alaskan, Lydia, who on Tuesday, in Omaha, NE, swam the second fastest time in the world in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke finals in the Olympic trials. She is the second fastest breaststroker in the world, and she is only 17. This cinched her spot to represent the United States in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. This is an incredible and–I will admit it–a rather unlikely story that we are all so proud of in Alaska.

With regard to the Olympics, Alaskans typically punch way above our weight. In the Winter Olympics, we really, really punch above our weight, with many, many Alaskans making the Olympic team for the Winter Olympics every 4 years. We have done well in the Summer Olympics as well. Olympic veteran, rugby player Alev Kelter, from Eagle River, will be competing this year. Shortly, will we will be learning if Allie Ostrander, who is a really amazing young woman, steeplechase champion and another incredible athlete, will be in the Olympics this year. We will learn soon. But we have never sent a swimmer to the Olympics. You don’t always equate Alaska and swimming. She will be the first, and Alaskans across the State are cheering on Lydia. So let me tell you a little bit about this remarkable young woman.

Her parents, Leslie and Richard, are both boat camp captains. Leslie is the educational coordinator for the Marine Science Explorer Program at the Kenai Fjords Tours. Rich is a maritime instructor at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center, what we call AVTEC.

By the way, a little aside: AVTEC does great work. I have really enjoyed my visits there. So, Rich, keep up the great job there.

He is also a guy for Arctic and Antarctic trips.

So that is Mom and Dad. Leslie moved to Alaska when she was 9 years old. Richard came to the state in 1992 when he was fresh out of college, and like so many, they fell in love with the State and stayed. They raised their daughter, as I mentioned, in the town of Seward, AK. There are a little under 3,000 people there, and it is just an hour south of Anchorage. It is nestled between Resurrection Bay and soaring mountains. Its motto is “Alaska starts here.”

I love Seward, AK. I get there as much as I can. I am going to be there in a couple of weeks, actually. It is known for stunning landscapes, a strong, generous community, and amazing people. So if you are visiting Alaska, you have to go to Seward.

Leslie and Richard signed Lydia up for swim classes when she was just a toddler. She joined the swim club when she was 6 years old. When she was 10, she was selected for the Alaska Swim Zone Team. State qualifying meets allowed her to go on trips. In between all of this, she was a musician, learning to play the guitar. She played at folk festivals. She was also in theater and in track–an all-around great athlete and an all-around great young woman.

As she excelled at swimming, her parents continued to be, in their words, “surprised and amazed.” Obviously, she has a deeply competitive streak, but you would not know it when you meet her. Her parents were surprised. “In the right setting, that streak can really be turned on,” Rich said. When she has a lousy race, she just shrugs it off. Her dad remembered one of her first swim meets when, halfway across the pool, she inhaled some water. She jumped out and didn’t want to get back in. Well, she is back in. As her dad said, she has come a long way.

One of her coaches, Solomon D’Amico, describes her as “kind, quiet, confident.” He says she has an “intense fire,” and when she sets her mind to something, like the Olympics, she goes for it.

Now, neither of her parents pushed her too hard–they wanted the drive to come from her, not them–but it certainly did come from her.

Solomon, her coach, is a former marine and athlete. Alaska is full of intense runs–marathons, ultra-marathons–but one of the most challenging is in Seward, AK. It is called the annual Mount Marathon Race, the Fourth of July, in Seward, a grueling 1.5-mile climb almost straight up and straight back down Mount Marathon. He has run this 24 years in a row. That is tough–Solomon, her coach.

Solomon really didn’t know much about swimming when he started coaching the small Seward swim team. In fact, Seward, AK, doesn’t even have an Olympic-size swimming pool, but they all worked hard. He encouraged them to be the best that they could be–to enjoy life but to also lift weights. Strength, Solomon said, is needed to excel in swimming, particularly at the breaststroke.

Lydia took to the weight rooms. She swims between 5 to 7 days a week, 1-hour to 90-minute sessions. She lifts weights about 3 hours a week. And as Solomon has said, “You want . . . athletes to be more process than outcome driven.”

Lydia fell in love with all the hard work. No one was ever going to give her a hard time if she missed a practice or a session, but every single opportunity she had to swim, she would be there.

Well, on Sunday, Lydia will head to Hawaii to train with Team USA. Then, a few weeks later, she will head to Tokyo.

Now, because of COVID restrictions, unfortunately, her parents won’t be there to watch in person. Her father said: “It’s a [bit of a] weird thing to send your kid across the world. But she’s an experienced traveler and there are great people involved with USA swimming.”

“We are over the moon proud of her,” her dad said.

So are we. We are so proud of you, Lydia. You are a role model for so many aspiring swimmers, not just across Alaska but across the country. So thank you for representing Alaska and our Nation so well.

Good luck in the Olympics. Congratulations on your success and congratulations on being our Alaskan of the Week.

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