Back in the Water at 37, Brooke Boak (nee Bishop) Hopes Olympic Trials Cut Is Just the Start

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Back in the Water at 37, Brooke Boak Hopes Olympic Trials Cut Is Just the Start

What started as an off-hand joke last summer grew serious pretty quickly for Brooke Boak.

Boak was hiking one day with Scott Shea, who had coached her at Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics in the late 1990s when Boak – then Brooke Bishop – was a teenager. Now in her 30s and a mom of three daughters, Boak and Shea’s bond has changed dimensions but remained strong.

So when Shea suggested that Boak was in good enough shape not just to take up swimming again but maybe post some times of national note, Boak felt comfortable enough to fire a barb back.

“He said, ‘you know, I think you could make (Olympic) trials,’” Boak told Swimming World Monday. “I said, ‘Yeah, me too,’ as a joke.

“About a month later, I came back to him, and I said, ‘ok, so what’s the plan?’”

The joking ended around September, when the training began. And while the humor remains for Boak in the fun she’s having at age 37, the results are getting serious, as last week’s TYR Pro Swim Series showed.

In more or less her first meet since 2008 Olympic Trials, Boak finished fifth in prelims of the 50 freestyle to secure an Olympic Trials cut of 25.24, then went 25.35 for eighth in the A final. She also finished 18th in the 100 free and 19th in the 100 butterfly.

It’s not bad for the mom of eight-, seven- and four-year-olds, who felt the pull back to the pool once her youngest was in pre-school and she had more free time on her hands.

The weekend’s meet in Westmont, Ill., wasn’t technically the first for Boak. She did have to qualify for the Pro Swim Series, via a January yards meet in Berkeley. The PASA team there was pretty much a bunch of age-groupers and the mom of three almost-age-groupers.

“It was just really weird being back at swim meets,” Boak said. “The Berkeley meet, it was close to home so my parents came, my family, my kids, lots of other kids from PASA. It was close to home and a lot of people cheering me on. It was just really fun to get back in the water and race.”

Bishop’s Gambit

Boak’s career may have been long ago, but it was distinguished. The 2004 graduate of Mountain View High School is born and bred in the Bay Area. She never lost a race in high school and made an instant impact at Stanford, as a 17-time All-American and two-time captain.

Brooke Boak; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

She won a pair of (then) Pac-10 relay titles as a freshman in 2005 and was the 2006 Pac-10 champion in the 50 free. She would finish no worse than ninth in 12 career individual events at the conference championships and topped out at NCAAs with a bronze medal in the 50 in 2006. She was fifth in the 50 in 2007 and twice made the top six in the 100 backstroke.

Internationally, she represented the U.S. at the 2007 World University Games, winning a silver medal off the front of the 400 medley relay.

By 2008, though, she’d reached a natural stopping point. That year’s NCAAs was the worst of her four, her best finish 10th in the 50 free. She didn’t know what to expect from her second Olympic Trials, but then exceeded every expectation in Omaha. Boak finished sixth in the 50 free and fourth in the 100 fly, which she seldom swam. The former event sent Dara Torres and Jessica Hardy to the Beijing Games. In the 100 fly, her lifetime best of 58.54 put her three tenths behind Elaine Breeden, who went 58.21 to grab the second Olympic spot behind winner Christine Magnuson (58.11).

For Boak, who had graduated that spring, that result was a sufficient coda on her swimming career.

“I ended on a great note,” she said. “I was really proud. In the 100 fly, I dropped a second and a half. I had great swims and I just went for it. I felt like I put everything out there and was really happy with how it ended.”

She returned to PASA briefly in the fall of 2008, swam a couple of meets and then hung up her goggles without a second thought. She would eventually get married, become a mom and use her degree in product design for a variety of ventures, including her own firm.

Physical activity remained a constant, competing in an Ironman. While her exercise pursuits were always goal-directed, she never had the itch to swim competitively as three Olympic cycles whizzed by.

“I felt like staying in shape and having workouts there as an escape was always a part of my schedule,” she said. “And I felt like I’ve always kept myself in pretty good shape.”

Going for Boak

It wasn’t until her youngest started pre-school that swimming returned as a possibility. She works at the school on Wednesday mornings, a built-in rest day around midday workouts. As her kids start swimming at PASA – Shea still coaches there, as does Dave Zapp, while Boak’s former Stanford teammate Dara Kirk runs one of the club’s five sites – the idea of being back in the water became more possible.

Brooke Boak; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Boak mostly trains by herself. Shea will send workouts and sometimes be there to proctor. But Boak is embracing training in a much different way than as a collegian. She’s mixing in more dryland, integrating plyometrics and rope climbing, and emphasizing rest and recovery.

Being on deck at the Pro Swim Series brought back memories, seeing younger swimmers interacting like she used to. It also surfaced some nerves, but Boak managed to corral them. She was more likely, she said, to get looks of recognition from coaches or officials than other swimmers, not just those who remembered her but from those better positioned to appreciate how hard it is to get there with three kids. The age gap was notable – her short-course yards time put her in the first heat of eight in the 50 with McKenzie Siroky, born in 2005, and 2007 baby Maeve O’Donnell – but not overwhelming.

Being a swimmer and a swim parent offers benefits and challenges. At Westmont, when she had a cap failure, she was able to use one of her daughter’s caps. While Boak was registering her and her daughter’s memberships with USA Swimming this week, the system glitched on her.

While her kids know that mom was a swimmer once, getting them excited for Trials in Indianapolis is an ongoing practice.

“I don’t think they really understand, but at the same time, we’re trying to talk about it, that I’m working really hard at this, that I got to go to a swim meet and that it went well,” she said. “I hope it’s just so that they can see it and think about how hard work comes together and pays off. It’s fun being on the other side of it trying to show that to the kids.”

Boak admits her goals are evolving. She didn’t say the word Paris, and thanks to Torres, she’s not in danger of setting any “oldest” records just yet. She still lists fun at the top of her objectives. But after the way she performed last weekend …

“I think I have impressed myself, to be honest, in that I didn’t think I’d be as fast as I was this last weekend,” she said. “Every time I have a good practice or a good meet behind me, the goals kind of keep changing. I’d love to make another Trials cut or two. I have another meet or two on the calendar, and then when we get there at Trials, I don’t know. I think I’ll approach it the same way as in 2008 and race and have fun. It would be great to maybe get a second swim or even a third swim and to just do the best I can. And it’ll be fun to have my family there to enjoy it.”

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Laura Keller
Laura Keller
1 month ago

You are amazing Brooke!!

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