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Olympian Amanda Beard is 'very proud' of Simone Biles' decision to prioritize mental health

Olympian Amanda Beard, who lives in Gig Harbor, won her first gold medal at the age of 14, and says she understands the intense mental pressure it takes to compete.

GIG HARBOR, Wash. — If anyone understands the pressure of the Olympic glare, it might be Amanda Beard.

"It's a little stressful," said Beard, with a laugh, now relaxed, long retired, and living in Gig Harbor. She won her first Olympic gold medal at age 14, before a young woman named Simone Biles was even born.

"You know, I'm very proud of her," Beard said Thursday. "It's so brave. There is no way I would have had the guts to do that, I probably would have been crying in the corner, I probably did cry in the corner a couple of times to be honest."

Beard relates to the situation, and said the general public doesn't understand the mental toll it can take to get to the Olympics. Beard won seven medals, over four Olympic games, while growing up under constant scrutiny and stories in the press. She documented her own personal battles in a New York Times bestseller. 

"The biggest regret I have from my athletic career was not trying to seek help earlier," said Beard. "I waited till closer to the end of my swimming career."

"Some of my races were a minute and a couple seconds long, and I put in 6-7 days week and hours of training for that tiny little moment," said Beard about the Olympic experience, and spotlight that goes into it. It can be a rush to make the games, and perform well, but she said without a support system, it can be devastating too. 

"Simone is dealing with a whole different level of pressure and not having her regular support system around her," she said, "My family being at the Olympics, that was huge. You don't get to see them or hang out with them, but that was your safety blanket."

Beard said it took her years to find guidance and counseling. She and her husband Sacha moved to Gig Harbor nearly a decade ago, where she has since started up "Beard Swim Co," a facility which includes a couple pools designed to teach young children how to swim, and about water safety. To date, she said 800 families are part of the program, with another 800 on the waiting list. Beard said it allows her to share her love of swimming with a new generation, free of competition, while still watching the stars of the sports compete in between classes.

That's also where she's been watching the Biles story play out, and been cheering from afar. 

"I think she's really breaking down barriers and walls for all the younger athletes following into her footsteps, and also allowing us to be okay with taking care of ourselves," she said, "She's doing more for her sport and everybody's sports than she understands and realizes right now."