Strong female characters, swimmers: Olivia Pope, Stella Gibson and (well) me

Kerry Washington swims in Scandal

I got into “Scandal” earlier this year. I’d held off … most likely because I find smart and even sometimes soap opera-y TV shows to be quite addictive, and I was trying to limit my viewing.

With Netflix streaming and other online services, it is easy enough to burn through a short season in a long weekend, too. So after burning through “House of Cards” and reading articles about the trend to cover D.C., I started watching “Scandal,” catching up on the first two seasons shortly before the third season kicked off. I was intrigued by the detail that Olivia, played by Kerry Washington, is a swimmer.  She swims laps on occasion to blow off steam and stress, while retaining her stylish ways.

I am no Olivia Pope, but I grew up swimming, was a lifeguard and taught swimming lessons while in high school and part of college. I recently got back into swimming more seriously for two long-distance events, Park to Park, and Swim Across America, a two mile swim, which was a new record and challenge for me. I was part of Team Ben Towne Foundation, raising money for pediatric cancer research.

I really love to swim, even when doing the crawl for two miles in a lake feels like it takes three hours and my arms feel like lead weights. In reality, it took one hour, 21 minutes. And I think it will feel even better next year.

Stella Gibson swims in The Fall

I read an article about “The Fall” in September, in a spread in T/ The New York Times Style Magazine on lead character and serial killer Paul Spector, played by Jamie Dornan. In the first episode of the BBC series, Stella Gibson, played by a never-looked-better Gillian Anderson, hits the hotel pool to de-stress after a long day at work. When she later moves out of the hotel and into police headquarters, she asks her assistant to help her locate a nearby pool where she can swim. Swimming! I love seeing these great women hit the pool on TV.

Anderson told The Scotsman this month that she’s not really a swimmer. “I don’t like water that much,” confesses Anderson. “I thought I was going to tire of it. But I enjoyed it.” The article goes on to say that Anderson seems more comfortable with the sex scenes than the swimming.

In an August 2013 Vanity Fair interview and cover story, Washington is described as driven, and “the kind of girl who took up swimming because her parents told her it was the one sport in which proficiency might mean the ability to save a life.” In addition to the white old school swim cap she sports in the screen grab above, she switches over to a black swim cap on subsequent trips to the pool.

Will this inspire new legions of strong female (character) swimmers? It has already inspired one blogger at to declare: What’s the Scandal? Olivia Pope loves swimming! Washington would, of course, be an awesome spokesperson for this cause.

And, more locally, Team Ben Towne Foundation is already scouting for swimmers for Swim Across America in 2014, too. So if you’re interested, just let me know.

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