LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville native Brooke Forde is getting ready to dive into the familiar waters of Lakeside Swim Club. The Stanford star has been coming here for her whole life.
"To come right back here, it's sort of easy to reflect on my journey," Forde said.
It's one that's led her to four national titles as a collegiate swimmer, with the latest coming on March 19 at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships in the 400 individual medley event. And that presented the toughest path of her journey so far.
"I think I learned a lot about my relationship with the sport of swimming," Forde said.
With her junior season canceled due to COVID-19 and pools shut down, the Sacred Heart alumna came back to Louisville to try to train with some teammates and family. Once those chances even dried up, the months that followed saw Forde separated from her team and out of the pool.
"So that's something I've never done in my career is take a break that long," Forde said. "Then, it was a long period of time to build back into swimming and recover from taking that time off."
The senior got back to Stanford in July to start training again. While she had regular access to team facilities, life in the team's bubble was still an adjustment.
"I couldn't even be with indoors with my own teammates a lot of the time," Forde said. "I spent several different periods of the year in quarantine alone, getting tested three times a week, pretty much doing nothing except online school and swimming. I was just trying to be as safe as I could."
Forde is used to being surrounded by swimming. Her mother swam at Northwestern while she has two brothers who also did at Georgia and Missouri. But all of these obstacles challenged her to take a deeper dive.
"Having to persevere through all those struggles made me sort of reevaluate my commitment to the sport," Forde said. "But I did find that this is something that I still love to do. And I'm willing to go through all of that just to be able to compete with my team and compete at the highest level."
It pushed her to thrive again at that level. The 2021 Pac-12 Women's Swimming & Diving Scholar-Athlete of the Year transformed her training routine to look like that of five-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky and four-time medalist Simone Manuel, who are former Cardinal swimmers.
Forde mastered the different strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle) and distance of the individual medley by training more than a typical college swimmer, adding practices and lifts to eventually dominate.
The All-American set a pool record with a time of 4:01.57 to capture another national championship and continued Stanford's streak of five straight individual title victories in the 400 individual medley.
"I was just super happy," Forde said. "I was really proud honestly, just sort of thinking back over the past year and what a challenge it's been for me and for my teammates, how much I've been working towards that goal of winning the 400 IM really for the past two years, since I didn't get a shot at it the year before. Having all that run through my mind and realizing it had sort of culminated in this win was really exciting."
And also revealing. As Forde turns her attention to the Olympics this summer, she's learned again what all of this truly takes.
"Just the value of commitment and how much commitment is required for this sport, and really, to be at this level in anything," Forde said. "I think I've just learned how to appreciate swimming and just step back to appreciate being at this level in my sport."