NORTH KINGSTOWN — Olympic medalist. NCAA national champion. North Kingstown High School Hall of Famer.
Elizabeth Beisel couldn’t have been happier to give that latest honor a prominent place in her long list of achievements.
“I’m so proud of where I come from. I’m a born and bred North Kingstown, Rhode Island, resident and this is the pinnacle. This is it,” Beisel said before joining her alma mater’s Athletic Hall of Fame Saturday. “This is where I started my career. This is where I became who I am. It’s amazing to be here tonight.”
Beisel was inducted along with eight individuals and a team during ceremonies at the Quonset ‘O’ Club. A few months into her retirement from competitive swimming, the 25-year-old Beisel is living at her parents’ house in Saunderstown when she’s not traveling for fun or for her work with Speedo and USA Swimming. She made sure she was home for this night and this chance to reflect on a memorable time in her career. The first Olympic medalist in the North Kingstown Hall of Fame was always happy to be a Skipper.
“Competing for NK is honestly one of the fondest memories I have of my swimming career,” she said.
Former principal Gerry Foley and former athletic director Keith Kenyon teamed up to introduce Beisel at the ceremony, sharing memories of an athlete whose star rose when she was still in high school – and a student who embraced still being in high school.
“The first time I met her, I was out watching the buses come in during her freshman year,” Foley said. “The first bell rang. The second bell rang. And as the last bell rang to begin the school day, a young girl got out of a car with wet hair flying in the breeze, gave me a nice smile and said hello and ran into the building.”
Foley recalled Beisel’s mother, Joan, hopping out of the car to explain why her daughter was late. She had a grueling early-morning practice schedule in hopes of becoming an Olympian. Foley in turn told the office staff to excuse the tardy arrival. The reason?
“I said, ‘Just put down the word, ‘Olympics,’” Foley said with a laugh.
In time, he learned Beisel was also a violinist and a strong student. And when she started swimming, he understood the Olympic dreams.
“When the winter sports season began, I got a call from the Rhode Island Interscholastic League,” Foley said. “They were checking to make sure one of our students was a bona fide, full-time student. I said, ‘Why do you ask?’ They said, ‘Well, yesterday, she swam for your high school team for the first time and broke a 50-year-old record.’”
Beisel was just 15 years old and still a student at North Kingstown when she qualified for the Beijing Olympics.
“After going to Beijing at 15, her life changed,” Kenyon said. “Ted and Joanie Beisel came to us and said, ‘She still wants to swim at the high school and be a normal high school kid.’ They didn’t ask for any special favors. They just wanted understanding.”
Beisel continued swimming for the Skippers, a unique opportunity that many of her fellow high-level swimmers didn’t get. She won 16 Rhode Island state championships.
“For them to allow me to compete for the high school team, you don’t find those chances anywhere else in the country,” Beisel said. “That’s one of the things I’m most proud of. This will always be home.”
Beisel went on to win silver and bronze medals in the 2012 London Olympics. At the University of Florida, she won two individual NCAA championships. In 2016, she made another Olympic appearance as a Team USA captain in Rio de Janeiro.
“We all watched it and we were captivated by it,” Foley said.
Through it all, North Kingstown and Rhode Island claimed a special place in Beisel’s heart. She has two tattoos – the Olympic rings and the anchor from the Rhode Island state flag.
“Whether I was at the Olympics or at Rhode Island states, the thing I always felt on the blocks was the support of NK – the high school and the entire community,” Beisel said. “That’s something I’m going to hold onto my entire life and something that has really made this place special to me.”
While her journey was unique, her appreciation for North Kingstown fit right in among her fellow inductees Saturday night. One of them – Sherry Harper – flew in from Australia, where she lives. All of them, including Beisel’s former schoolmates Cody Normand, Ben Sternberg and Hannah Zangari, expressed the same pride at joining the Hall of Fame.
“I’ve known for a few months and definitely made sure I would be back here. This isn’t something I would miss,” Beisel said. “I think everyone feels that way – one person came from Australia. It just shows how important this is to all of us. What an incredible class to be inducted with.”
Beisel will head out soon for more speaking engagements with Speedo and USA Swimming. In August, she’ll be the swim ambassador for Save The Bay’s annual swim across Narragansett Bay. She’s also enjoying the freedom from the demands of swimming to travel the world.
“I know she’s still figuring out what she wants to do, but whatever she does, it’ll be spectacular,” Foley said. “We used to have a saying here, ‘Skipper pride will not subside. Improving daily, side by side.’ She’s a really good example of that. No matter where she goes, you’re always going to find her coming back home. That home is, of course, NK, and we’re lucky for it.”
Whatever comes next, Beisel was grateful to appreciate what came first.
“She’s a Gator. She’s an Olympian. She’s an Olympic medal winner. She’s a Hall of Famer,” Kenyon said. “But she’s always going to be a Skipper.”