(Originally featured in the Peabody Weekly News)
Every time the Olympics come around, Samantha Livingstone’s whirlwind memories of her time in Sydney, Australia for the 2000 Summer Olympic Games start to refresh themselves in her mind as she watches athletes, much like herself, compete for passion, glory, and pride.
It’s only natural, seeing as she holds in her hands exactly what each Olympian strives to achieve -- Olympic gold.
The Peabody native and Williamstown resident Livingstone (18-year-old Sam Arsenault at the time), along with Jenny Thompson, Lindsay Benko, and Diana Munz earned their hardware in the women’s 4x200 meter freestyle relay, finishing in a since-broken Olympic record 7:57.80, beating out Australia (7:58.52) and Germany (7:58.64). Her split was 1:59.92.
The race was the first and only Olympic competition that Livingstone ever competed in, an accomplishment that she was disappointed with at first but now cherishes.
“There’s always such a high regard for athletes who race in individual events in the Olympics and I always wanted to be able to,” said Livingstone, who now has a two-year-old daughter, Kylie, and twin girls on the way. “I wasn’t seeing how difficult it is to make a relay event, too. There’s more spots to make it, so swimmers train even harder because there’s so many people going for those spots. It’s not a guarantee, either, no matter who you are, that you’ll even swim in the finals. It could just be the qualifying team. I had to get over my sadness about this being the only event I did. I was embarrassed at the time but I can look at it now and be proud of it.”
While the Olympics are always enjoyable for her to watch, this summer’s contests are especially endearing as the 30-year-old is now at a point of peace with herself and doesn’t question her decision to retire from competitive swimming following her career at the University of Georgia.
“This time was so much fun to watch, I think, because I was a little bit more removed from wondering if I should have retired or not,” she said. “With all the social media and all my friends posting things on Facebook and Twitter, you could see the pics of everything going on. It was so cool to see the similarities between the two games in different cities, 12 years apart. Everyone gathering in the cafeteria looked the same, and while the village was set up a little differently, it was the same in so many ways. I did experience that fun, too, and to watch it now and see it through their eyes and think ‘Hey, I shared all of those moments, too.,’ is really cool.”
Of course, being an Olympian creates a certain social standard that the general public holds them to. The situation has been no different for Livingstone, who, in the past, tended to withhold her accomplishments unless they were brought up in conversation by someone else.
“I’ve been humble my whole life with my accomplishments. When people want to talk about my Olympic achievements, I talk, but I don’t bring it up; especially when I move to new areas,” said the Livingstone, who transferred to Gardner High School her junior year after spending her first two at Peabody. “I think now that I have a daughter, it has shifted my whole perspective. Now I get excited about it. I show her videos of me online swimming and it’s nice to share with her.
“Overall, though, you do feel a certain responsibility. As the Alumni Association says, ‘Once an Olympian, always an Olympian,.’ There’s responsibility and pressure that goes along with it, so for a long time I wouldn’t bring it up. There’s a standard and stigma and people have certain expectations of you. They expect honesty, hard work, and perseverance in all we do. But from all the Olympians I know, nobody separates who they were in the pool with those characteristics from who they are in general. It carries over into everyday life. For me, it’s in the classroom as a science teacher and as a mother.”
Livingstone has especially enjoyed watching Missy Franklin this year. The 17-year-old California native won three gold medals in the 100 and 200 meter backstroke and, you guessed it, the 4x200 meter freestyle relay. Franklin also took bronze in the 4x100 free relay and placed fourth and fifth in the 200 and 100 free, respectively.
“I see these kids on TV now and I realize that was me just over a decade ago,” she said. “I look at Missy Franklin and I love the sparkle in her eyes. I was so impressed with what she did. To see her compete so young, like I was when I was 18, and be completely able to stay focused and stay in the moment is impressive.”
Teaching high school science is her passion, but she feels that she’ll always be called upon to give back to the sport that she loves. Livingstone has also coached high school and club swimming and volunteers her time now on a private level, teaching local kids in the area starving for knowledge.
One thing she doesn’t want to do though, is become a swim mom.
“With my daughter, I resist being a swim mom because I know the kind of pressure it puts on the kids and parents both,” said Livingstone. “I don’t want to force that upon my daughter. But I joke with my parents and say my kids aren’t going to swim at all. Of course, it would be fun for me if she chose it but I’ll never push it upon her. Right now, she’s a little dare devil, so I’m not sure swimming will even meet her adrenaline level.”
With all of the Olympic fervor spreading across the country, plenty of amateur athletes will be extra-motivated to strive toward greatness in the coming months. Livingstone has some advice.
“Growing up, you look at people on TV and it’s natural to compare yourself at similar ages. I did a good job of not concerning myself with that. I was just a little girl from Massachusetts that just wanted to make it to Olympics. Success comes from blocking out the naysayers, finding a great coach that can inspire you, push you past your limits, and believes in you, along with believing in yourself, and trusting your heart.”
“If someone can do that, they will succeed.”