Brooke Forde Continues Stanford Legacy in 400 IM, Earns Validation With NCAA Title

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Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

The first NCAA title for Brooke Forde was a little unexpected. Part of the elite IM and distance groups at Stanford, her best event had been the 400 IM, though her first NCAA title came in the 500-yard freestyle as an underclassman.

Forde was the favorite to win the NCAA title in the 400 IM in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out her chance, along with the chances of everyone else.

She wasn’t as clear of a favorite going into this year’s meet, and she took the third seed after prelims.

But Forde proved why she was last year, and still is this year, the top 400 IM swimmer in the country, winning in 4:01.57 to break the Greensboro pool record.

“It is really special. It is definitely a different feel than when I won the 500. That was sort of unexpected and awesome. But this is my event, what I train for every single practice. Validation is a good word. Seeing that pay off, especially after last year not having a meet, is huge,” Brooke Forde told Swimming World. “I felt like this was kind of a long time coming with last year being canceled. The 400 IM is what I have been focusing on this whole year.”

Forde won the title after only racing in the event in one dual meet and at Pac-12s this abbreviated season.

“It is really hard to stay motivated without the moments of swimming the event. I raced it so few times,” Forde said. “It was something I struggled with throughout the year. It is definitely more mental than physical. The longer I went without swimming it, the more scared of it I was. Doing it at Pac-12s helped me get over that and be ready to rely on the training and know that I had the preparation even if I hadn’t raced it a lot.”

She kept the Cardinal legacy in the event with the 13th NCAA title in the 400 IM by a Stanford woman, the most for any school in any individual event at women’s Division I NCAAs.

Forde joins the title ranks of Janet Evans, Summer Sanders, Michelle Griglione, Julia Smit, Maya DiRadio, and her former teammate Ella Eastin as champs in the event.

Pretty elite company – three of those names have Olympic medals to their name in the 400 IM.

Being behind Eastin and Katie Ledecky— the fastest duo in NCAA history — on her own team, can be tough, despite its advantages.

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Brooke Forde. Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

“That is the most special part of this for me. That has been something our team has been talking about a lot, being ‘Caretakers of a Legacy’ — the Stanford legacy. It is about performing at NCAAs. This is Stanford’s event and I have been lucky enough to train with Ella and Katie, the best 400 IMers in history,” Forde said.

She took the “Caretakers of a Legacy” to heart, even writing it on her foot before the race. It helped her focus on the goal that she has had for more than two years.

The 4:01 was not her best time. That came in 2019 when she finished second (3:59.26) to Eastin, who capped her career by winning the event all four years.

But a best time is unexpected by most swimmers coming out of a training year that was uneven — and even nonexistent at times — because of the pandemic and all of the challenges that have come with it.

Forde said with all of the waiting and the adversity, this title is even sweeter.

“I felt really proud of myself, honestly. It has been a really hard year for everyone, especially for my team and myself getting through this year,” Brooke Forde said. “I was really proud that I persevered through that and was able to keep my head in the right place and get something like this out of it and know it was all worth it.”