Just released today, “Tough Girl” By Carolyn Wood is the author’s memoir, a glimpse into the childhood journey of a young Carolyn in her days as a swimmer on her way to competing at the Olympic Games. That story is mixed with the perspective of Carolyn in 2012 as she undertakes a journey of self-reflection through the famous Camino de Santiago. The Camino de Santiago consists of a large network of trails and paths that serve as a pilgrimage for many people to take to shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great. During this part of her journey, Carolyn reflects on her life after her Olympic competition up into that point. Marrying a man and having children, to coming out as a lesbian and the subsequent divorce and custody battle. She eventually met her long-term partner but after many years together, they too went their separate ways. Feeling lost and uncertain of her future, Carolyn decided to set out on her own journey of self-reflection and to gain some of her own insight on life.

The book was indeed a very enjoyable read. Particularly the parts of young Carolyn as a swimmer in the Pacific Northwest, growing up in the 1950s and learning more about her family life as well as experiences in training. As well as the kind of motivation she had that ultimately brought her to the 1960 Olympic Games. A lot names, familiar to those of swimmers as well as the Olympics are part of her story. Including a cameo from one Cassius Clay.

With the scenes of her youth swimming intercut with her reflections on the Camino de Santiago we learn a bit more about Carolyn’s life after the Olympics, with a bit of insight from her life experiences leading up to that present moment. I felt like though, we were still missing a bit of the story and playing catch up to that moment on the Camino de Santiago. We scratched the surface of her journey, from losing custody of her children after her divorce simply because she was a lesbian to falling in love again with a woman and finally learning her desire to undertake the journey itself. It was a very insightful read with a lot of non-religious philosophical attributes based more on Carolyn’s own life experiences.

“Tough Girl” is a strong read and especially insightful for fans of swimming, Olympics and anyone who appreciates or understands what it’s like to grow up in a world full of pressure to live someone else’s life when that life is not who you are. Find “Tough Girl” here

By Dirk Smith