by Nancy Bercaw
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Grand Harbor Press
For swimming champion Nancy Stearns Bercaw, the pool was a natural habitat. But on land, she could never shake the feeling of being a fish out of water. Starting at age two, Nancy devoted her life to swimming, even qualifying for the 1988 Olympic Trials in the fifty-meter freestyle event. But when she hung up her cap and goggles after college, she was confronted with a different kind of challenge: learning who she was out of the lanes.
In this honest, intimate memoir, Nancy reflects on her years wandering the globe, where tragic events and a lost sense of self-escalate her dependence on booze. Thirty-three years after her first sip of alcohol, the swimmer comes to a stunning realization while living with her husband and son in Abu Dhabi—she’s drowning in the desert. Nancy looks to the Bedouin people for the strength to conquer one final opponent: alcohol addiction.
“A brave, honest, adventurous memoir that keeps you turning pages as Bercaw travels around the world and rediscovers what it really means to win…at life.” —Leigh Newman, author of Still Points North
Living in Abu Dhabi is akin to being a minnow in a fishbowl next to a tank of piranhas. You’re safe unless the glass breaks.
I start by brushing my teeth vigorously, as if I’m Lady Macbeth and dental stains are the proof of my crime.
Allan’s hairline has receded in the years we’ve been together, but what’s left still stands straight off his head. He still looks like Einstein and still dresses like a teenage boy in Converse sneakers, snug designer jeans, and rock ’n roll T-shirts.
Walking across the sand with my unwieldy coconut collection, I look like a juggler who’s forgotten what to do.
“Charred pigeon… And it’s mine. I’m taking it home for a snack later.” Habiba was nine months pregnant. The pigeon was all hers. I told her about eating live termites in Kenya and live octopus in Korea. She faked a gag reflex.
I seldom read memoirs, as many people who write them erroneously believe that their lives are infinitely fascinating when they just – aren’t… However, this one held my interest as Nancy Stearns Bercaw, whom I had never heard of before, has lived an extremely adventuresome life, whether she was sober or soused. The book started in Abu Dhabi and ended in Iceland, just to give you perspective on the extremes of the wanderlust that was her normal. And in between those places were tales of her stints as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa and Korea with additional jaunts all around the dark continent, as well as trips and stays in Singapore, Manila, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kathmandu, New Delhi, Egypt, and the Taj Mahal.
The murder of a coworker in Korea seemed to have left a lasting scar on her psyche. However, her epiphany or Come to Jesus Moment occurred in Abu Dhabi when she was faced with the obscenity of her health status as the result of thirty years of over-imbibing. Facing her demons was not an easy task, nor was it dull for the reader to follow. I was not familiar with the term or concept of “dryland” training, which involves having swimmers perform sit-ups and push-up exercise outside of the pool to learn, “to grapple with the forces of gravity outside their preferred element.” The narrative was often amusing and remained entertaining throughout although it was not ordered in a chronological sequence and tended to swing passionately back and forth through various timelines of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and beyond. Despite this, it was easy to follow and I thought nothing of it as my memories zigzag in a similar manner when I take stock of my own time on this earth, although my history would not be quite as eventful, well-traveled, or honestly expressed. I refer you back to my first sentence in regard to those writing memoirs 😉 I was provided with a review copy of this engaging book by TLC Book Tours.
About Nancy Stearns Bercaw
Writer and national champion swimmer Nancy Stearns Bercaw is a seventeen-time NCAA All-American athlete and was inducted into the University of South Florida’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009. Her writing has appeared in publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Huffington Post, the Korea Herald, U.S. News & World Report, Abu Dhabi’s Tempo magazine, and ScaryMommy.com. In addition to Dryland: One Woman’s Swim to Sobriety, she is the author of Brain in a Jar: A Daughter’s Journey Through Her Father’s Memory and a contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias. She lives in Vermont with her husband and son.