Olympian Samantha Arsenault Livingstone was co-captain of the Lady Bulldogs swim team at the University of Georgia, where she was a four-time All-American and NCAA Woman of the Year.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Samantha Livingstone's father did not get to make the long trip to see his daughter win a gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
He just made all the little trips that got her there.
It is about 67 miles from Peabody, on the North Shore, to Gardner, where Samantha Arsenault — now Williamstown resident Samantha Livingstone — did her club swimming and attended Gardner High School as a school choice student.
Early each morning throughout Samantha's junior and senior years, Edward Arsenault packed up his daughter and made the trip west in time for pre-school varsity practices.
He then turned around and went back to the North Shore for work, only to return in the late afternoon to pick her up from her afternoon Greenwood Memorial Pool club practices. Multiply the two round trips by 180 school days over two years, and you get about 96,000 miles of windshield time per year in two years for Arsenault.
When the 18-year-old Samantha traveled to Sydney with Team USA, she was joined by her mother, her aunt and her grandmother ... but not her father. As comfortable as he is behind the wheel, Edward is not comfortable with the thought of air travel.
But to say he was there "in spirit" would be an understatement of Olympic proportions.
"There's a cliche that it's all about the journey, more so than that moment, but really it's so true," Livingstone said recently.
"At that time, I was 14 and didn't like my dad. He was just uncool, and I was in a weird place. And that time created such an incredible bond. He's like one of my best friends now. He's still my father, and he doesn't let me forget that, but we have such an incredibly close relationship.
"I think we both attribute it to that time in the car. We had no choice but to talk. It was before iPhones and mp3 players. Just give me breakfast in the car, and off we go. I still am impressed that he did it, and then went to work all day."
Samantha Livingstone dreamed of the Olympics from the time she was 8 years old. She had photos of New England legend Jenny Thompson (later a teammate) on the wall of her bedroom. She made a wish on the first star she saw each night that she might one day stand atop an Olympic medal stand. But by age 14, she had hit a wall — and not in a good way.
"I made that change and transition (to Gardner High) right at the time when I thought I was going to quit swimming," Livingstone said. "I was 14 and, now that I've taught high school, I know that adolescents don't know what they want. They aren't really sure which direction they want to go. And I really thought about quitting because I wasn't happy with the club team I was on, the team on the North Shore. So my mom said, 'How about a change?'"
That change meant working with Greenwood and then-Gardner High coach Don Lemieux, who Livingstone credits with reigniting her passion for the sport.
She credits her family with making that relationship possible.
"As one of four kids … it was a huge family sacrifice,” she said. “My mom was just finishing going back to school to become a nurse, and my dad has a family business. Our whole family shifted its lifestyle for me to be able to pursue this dream.
“But they made it work. And now I see as a parent, you'll do what it takes for your kids."
Samantha and her husband, Rob Livingstone, have a 2-year-old daughter, Kylie, and twin girls on the way. The couple met in Atlanta, where Samantha was working as a teacher and swim coach after retiring from competitive swimming in 2005 after a successful career at the University of Georgia.
Last year, Rob took a job as the strength and conditioning coach at Williams College.
Livingstone won the gold medal for the 4×200 meter freestyle relay
Team USA dominated swimming in the 2000 Olympics, taking 14 gold medals and 33 medals overall.
"I'm from Massachusetts originally, so it was an ideal opportunity when he applied for the job, and he came up here and was just so impressed," she said. "We took a leap of faith and left everything we knew in Atlanta, but we've been really happy."
Although she is a Bay State native, the Berkshires were a new experience for Livingstone.
"I'm embarrassed to say that we never ventured out here when I was growing up," she said. "I asked my parents why did we never make it out here. They said, 'Do you forget how many weekends you were swimming?'
"I hadn't been out here until we moved here. We're very happy we did. It's a perfect place to raise our family."
For now, Livingstone is focused on that growing family. But down the road, she sees herself getting back into teaching and coaching. Last year, she signed on to help the Sand Springs Recreational Center, the group that is reviving Williamstown's Sand Springs Pool. She has operated a couple of clinics at Williams and this spring participated in a clinic at the Pittsfield YMCA.
"When I came here, my first thought was, 'Where's the pool? Here can I take my daughter swimming?'" Livingstone said. "I was introduced to Janette (Dudley of the Sand Springs group), and I really hopped on board with that.
"I just really believe (swimming) is a life skill. It's a safety issue first and foremost. And it's also a life sport. It's something that's healthy. And who knows? Maybe we can inspire the next Olympic medalist playing outside in the water and learning how to do all the strokes and then joining a swim team — it's this whole progression."
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