WNBA superstar Alana Beard has won LHSAA state titles, ACC crowns and now has a WNBA championship to her credit.
But the 35-year-old Shreveport native, Southwood and Duke graduate, who has stood in virtually every ocean in the world, does not know how to swim.
That bothers her — and Beard has always been one to do something about things that bother her. That’s why she was willing to fly into Shreveport Friday morning after playing a WNBA contest with the Los Angeles Sparks Thursday night, just to work with a group of about 30 young people involved with Common Ground Community.
The 2004 John R. Wooden Award as the national collegiate player of the year is learning to swim with them during the second annual Alana Beard’s Swim Safety event at the YMCA of Northwest Louisiana.
“It is very important to me to keep this going because up to 75 percent of African- Americans do not know how to swim,” Beard told The Times. “It’s not in their households to learn. It’s close to my heart after learning about the tragedy on the Red River in 2010.”
Six youngsters drowned that fateful day trying to save a friend in the swirling water.
Speaking with the panache of a CEO, Beard addressed her Common Ground visitors, who were rapt with attention. When she asked how many could swim, most of them raised their hands. When she asked how many could swim the length of the YMCA pool, only a couple of hands remained up.
“We’ll find out tomorrow when we get in the water,” Beard said smiling.
The students will be put through a hands-on swim session Saturday morning from 9-10 a.m. Beard will be in the pool with them before heading back to L.A. to continue trying to lead the second-place Sparks to a second consecutive title. She was obviously still reveling in her first championship as a pro on Friday afternoon. As a “Dukie,” she advanced to a pair of Woman’s NCAA Final Fours, but her Blue Devils lost in the semifinals both times.
“It felt absolutely amazing and it took a lot of mental capacity from all of us to pull it off,” Beard said. “I’ve never been that locked in about anything. Candace Parker and I were talking about it last night that we were just so overwhelmed with excitement, but were also exhausted.”
Beard, a past WNBA All-Star, has always been about family, which made sharing the 2016 WNBA title, her first in 12 professional seasons, with her mother, Marie, special.
“The best part was hearing the release from my mom,” Beard said. “She came on the floor and she was screaming. I’ve gone through so many tough times and my family has always been my support system.”
Beard has another half season with the Sparks, but her future as a pro is unclear at this point. Although she’s healthy and looks like she could still suit up for Steve McDowell on Walker Road, her contract is up after this season.
“I don’t know what will happen then. I don’t want to be one of those athletes who keeps hanging on. I want to leave the game on my own terms,” she said. “Some of it is dependent on my body. Right now it’s maybe, maybe not.”
Beard took questions from her new Common Ground friends, most of them surrounding basketball. One young man wanted to know if she could dunk.
“I’m 35,” she said with a smile.
Another asked about her scoring average?
“You’ll have to Google that. I’m about defense, but I can score when I need to,” said the shooter who posted 48 points with 20 rebounds in the LHSAA Class 5A state title game in 2000.
One young man wanted to know if she “made millions?”
“I play in the WNBA,” she said.
The YMCA’s Mason McGee offered some water safety tips, while Beard delivered the gathering some life tips.
“Only 2 percent of college athletes make it to the professional level. That’s why it’s extremely important to get your education,” Beard said. “Dream big, but do things like learn how to swim.”