On Nov. 6, Seward junior Lydia Jacoby, 16, participated in a virtual swim meet with the rest of the high school swim teams in the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
Just a week later, Jacoby participated in a virtual meet with some of the best swimmers in the United States.
Such is life when you are one of the best junior breaststrokers this country has ever seen, yet were raised in a town in Alaska that has fewer people than some major swim clubs in the Lower 48.
At the 2020 Toyota U.S. Open Championships, Jacoby won a national title in the 100-meter breaststroke on Nov. 13, then qualified for the Olympic trials in the 200 breaststroke on Nov. 14.
The U.S. Open Championships, the biggest national meet since the new coronavirus pandemic began, were held synchronously at nine regional sites throughout the country.
Jacoby chose to swim in San Antonio, Texas. She made the meet part of a tour of top college choices. Those choices are University of Texas, Notre Dame, University of Tennessee and North Carolina State.
That put Jacoby in the pool with 19-year-old Anna Elendt of the University of Texas for the 100-meter breaststroke. Elendt had the fastest time in the meet at 1 minute, 7.50 seconds. Jacoby was second at 1:07.57, but won the national title because Elendt is a German citizen.
Jacoby’s new personal record in the event also put her second all-time among American girls 15 and 16 years old. The top mark is Megan Jendrick’s 1:07.05 from 2000.
Jacoby said via cellphone Friday she is grateful for all the steps USA Swimming took to put on a safe meet, including the regional sites, splitting up men and women, and eliminating preliminaries.
“There was lot of space on deck,” she said. “It went well.”
Jacoby also said the format may have cost her a faster time.
“In retrospect, I could have gone faster,” she said. “Normally at big meets, it’s prelims, then the finals. I’m typically very much a finals swimmer.
“I get in a good zone, but I didn’t have that opportunity. I could have taken it out more smooth and brought it home faster. I could have taken another second off.”
The meet also was held in a pool 50 meters long. Nearly all pools in Alaska are 25 yards long, with the lone exception being Bartlett. The 50-meter pools rely more on the swimming stroke than turns.
“I’m really happy with it,” Jacoby said of her 100 breaststroke. “I tapered for that meet and worked directly toward that meet. I set up for it really well.”
In the 200 breaststroke, Jacoby was 13th in 2:32.36. Madisyn Cox, 25, of Longhorn Aquatics won in 2:27.55.
Jacoby did best the Olympic trials qualifying standard of 2:33.29. She has already qualified for the trials, which are currently scheduled for June 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska, in the 100 breaststroke.
“I’m typically thought of as more of a 100 breaststroker, but that felt really good in my mind because it was validation that I’m also a 200 breaststroker,” she said.
Born in Anchorage, Jacoby has been raised in Seward. She started with the Seward Tsunami Swim Club at age 6. Between the ages of 10 and 12, she started having success in swimming. She realized the sport was a cool way to get to travel and make a lot of friends.
At 14, she hit the 100 breaststroke qualifying standard at the USA Swimming Winter Nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina, in late 2018. At 15, she won the Speedo Junior National Championships in the 100 breaststroke in August 2019. A month later, she was named to the U.S. Junior National swim team.
Like everybody else, though, the pandemic brought challenges for Jacoby. She was able to answer those challenges with the help of the Alaska swimming community.
“I’d like to say thank you to everyone in Alaska swimming who helped me get here even with the pandemic,” Jacoby said. “Everybody worked together to make this happen.”
The pool at Seward High School closed in March and would remain closed through most of the summer. Jacoby and her mother, Leslie, were able to move to Anchorage in May and start training with the Northern Lights Swim Club.
“I’m grateful to that club for helping me,” she said.
The situation oddly may have helped Jacoby’s swimming.
“Normally in the summertime, our family travels a lot,” Jacoby said. “With COVID, that was not a thing.
“It worked out well in Anchorage because swimming was all I would do. I’d swim every morning and dry-land train every evening.”
By early September, the pool in Seward was open. Jacoby still went back and forth to Anchorage. She was able to work with her longtime club coach, Meghan O’Leary, and do helpful strength training in Seward with Solomon D’ Amico.
Jacoby said the additional work is necessary as she eyes stepping up from the junior level.
That next level was on display at the Pro Swim Series in Des Moines, Iowa, in March where four swimmers, all 23 or older, went under Jacoby’s U.S. Open 100 breaststroke time. Lilly King, who holds the world record of 1:04.13, won that race.
“Right now I’m on the Junior National team, but I’d love to move up to the national team,” Jacoby said. “We’ll see. There’s a lot of fast people out there.”
No matter what happens, Jacoby will still value her roots in Seward and Alaska. She said she is sad to have missed the season-culminating event for borough high school swimmers on Nov. 14. She’s also sad to be missing the Alaska State High School Invite, for high school age club swimmers, at Bartlett this weekend.
“That’s one of the biggest reasons I continue swimming, just because I have such good connections all over Alaska,” Jacoby said. “A lot of my best friends are people I met through swimming from other parts of Alaska.
“I’m sad to be missing the big state meet this weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing how everybody does.”