All of Seward turned out on Thursday for a parade honoring Lydia Jacoby, who returned home earlier this week having garnered worldwide acclaim for her gold and silver-winning Olympic performances in Tokyo last month. Visitors joined Sewardites along the streets of the parade route from Third Avenue to Fourth through downtown and along Ballaine, cheering on the conquering hero in a much-deserved homecoming reception.
Foam hands and rowdy applause greeted Jacoby along every leg of the route as her red-white-&-blue-adorned float carried the 17-year-old Olympian through the town that has nurtured her from humble Tsunami Swim 6-year-old to worldwide recognition as the greatest female breaststroke swimmer alive. Jacoby wore her Olympic team blazer, her gold and silver around her neck, and a radiant smile across her face.
Two recurring sentiments pervaded among those who had gathered to celebrate Jacoby’s success: pride and a sense of inspiration. 11-year-old Tora Morgan was visiting Seward with her family and looked to Jacoby as a role model in the same swimming style she pursues.
“She inspires me because breaststroke is my stroke,” Morgan said. “I’ve been swimming since I was six.”
“It shows all the other small-town athletes that even though we feel like don’t have as many resources as other kids, if you work hard, you can really go for your dreams,” said Jacoby’s schoolmate Anna Endres.
Others could scarcely contain their pride as they awaited Jacoby’s approach.
“The whole town, we’re so, so proud!” said Peggy Ferrell, awaiting Jacoby’s arrival outside the senior center.
“We’re stoked to bring home a gold for our community and Alaska and the US,” said Hannah Samlowski from a curbside seat on Third. “We’re all proud of her!”
Yet perhaps the strongest showing of support came from Jacoby’s fellow students and classmates.
“I just think that it’s so insane that a girl from such a small town like Seward won such a great thing, and it’s really going to inspire so many kids to push it and work for it,” said Aksel Unrein. “A couple years ago, the swimming pool was actually on the chopping block, but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.”
“We’ve known her our entire lives, and it’s so awesome to see her grow into this amazing young woman who can go to the frickin’ Olympics,” said classmate Rowan Bean. “We’re just so proud of her, and literally it gives me goosebumps just seeing her able to do all this, and it’s so inspiring to see her pursue her dreams.”
Others expressed as much admiration for Jacoby’s character as for her accomplishments.
“She’s one of the most hardworking, deserving people,” said Hannah Schilling. “She’s never said a mean thing about anybody. Genuinely the most humble person ever, and I’ve seen how hard she works in the weight room every morning. She’s always working.”
“She’s always just a generous, kind person,” said Gaia Casagranda. “She’s very warm-hearted, and seeing where she’s at right now, it inspires a lot of Seward high school kids, especially because we haven’t had the opportunity to go where she’s going right now, and we’re such a small town so it’s amazing to see Lydia just grow into this beautiful woman that she’s becoming right now.”
At the parade’s conclusion, Jacoby was honored by Governor Mike Dunleavy and other dignitaries before boarding a tour boat and answering pre-submitted questions while the crowd listened from the shore.
Asked what she tells the young women who look up to her now, Jacoby said, “Wherever you’re from and whatever resources you have, with dedication and time you can make it happen.”
Jacoby will begin her senior year of high school when classes resume on Aug. 17.
More celebration photos can be seen here: