From the Olympics to medals at the South Pacific Games, Guam swimmer Barbara Gayle reflects on her journey through local, regional international competition over the last 30 years.
Questions and answers
GSPN: First off, let the Guam sports fans know what Barbara Gayle has been up to?
BG: I’ve lived in San Diego for almost 20 years. I came back to the U.S. mainland to get my MBA and settled here, where I’ve been working in commercial banking since 2004. In terms of sports, I previously competed in outrigger paddling with Kai Elua, a local club, but more recently I have returned to my first love of swimming – specifically ocean swimming. I also spend my spare time hiking, lifting weights, and doing CrossFit-type workouts.
GSPN: With the Tokyo Olympics going on, what goes through your mind when you watch that level of competition?
BG: I am in awe of how much faster the swimmers have gotten, with all the advancements in technique, training methodologies and swimwear. Also, the best swimmers can turn pro, which didn’t used to be the case. I look at a phenomenon like Katie Ledecky and find inspiration in her discipline and poise under pressure, even when faced with a rare second-place finish.
GSPN: You were 15 years old in the Seoul Games in 1988. What in the world was going through your mind when you reached the starting block?
BG: The experience was overwhelming on many levels, but when it came down to the race, I did my best to focus on what I could control in the 100m butterfly: my start, breathing, technique, and pace. In some ways I was a scared kid on that block, but I pushed all that aside to focus on the task at hand.
GSPN: What were some of your major takeaways about the sport and life itself after the Seoul Olympics?
BG: That attitude of focusing on what I can control and letting what is outside my control – which can induce anxiety, if I let it – fall to the background, has served me well in sports competitions, such as long-distance outrigger racing, and in my job, which is bound by deadlines. I’ve learned to let go of my attachment to being perfect in all that I do – perfection is not the goal, but rather constant improvement. Training for the Olympics taught me the importance of discipline, and I’ve learned to enjoy the process and allow myself some grace when it comes to mistakes or failures.
GSPN: We see you’re still swimming in the waters of California. That’s got to be cold compared to Guam’s waters.
BG: Yes, definitely! It took an adjustment, and I swim in an open-water-swimming wetsuit when the water temperatures dip below 66. But in the summer, when temps are around 68-72, I enjoy the freedom of movement in a swimsuit. The ocean water feels refreshing, and it can be a rush once you acclimate. When I go back to Guam and swim in the ocean, that takes an adjustment – the water is so warm!
GSPN: What would you say to a 15-year-old Barbara Gayle today to prepare her for an Olympic slot?
BG: I would say something like, “Perfection is not the goal. You’ve qualified for your event, and you’ve trained as best as you can. You’ve got this! No matter the outcome of the race, as long as you do your best, that is worth commending.” I would also advise her to enjoy the full Olympic experience – cheering on Guam teammates and watching the other events.