Next year is a big one for many reasons for Regan Smith.
Not only will graduate high school in the spring and start college in the fall, but she’ll be making final preparations to make sure she’s a top contender at Olympic Trials in Omaha and insure she’s in position to earn a spot on her first Olympic team.
But in the short-term, Smith will be vying for her first individual medal in her second FINA World Championships next month – putting the rest of the swimming world on notice that she’s a factor this year and will be an even bigger one next year.
“Next year will definitely be a very exciting one,” she said. “It is crazy to think that Trials and college are just one year away. At 2016 trials, I was heading into my freshman year of high school, so 2020 Trials will be a very different experience for me.
“I am not one who tends to think too far out into the future, but just knowing that all of these things are so close is very motivating to me and it’s something that I keep in my mind at practice every day.”
Several weeks back at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Bloomington, Smith proved her prowess by sweeping the 50, 100 and 200 backstrokes and finished second in the 200 butterfly.
All season, she’s been on a tear in her specialty events, adding victories in both the 100 and 200 back events in Knoxville as well as swimming freestyle and butterfly events.
This weekend, she’s competing at the Counsilman Classic in Indianapolis – her final meet before Worlds next month – and she’s planning to compete in a lot of freestyle events and put up some fast swims for a positive start to her summer season.
“Bloomington was a blast for me,” said Smith, who made her first World team two years ago as a 15-year-old, the youngest Worlds team member from the U.S. since 2007. “I was not expecting anything near what I was able to accomplish and it was such a confidence booster. It makes me really excited to see how well I can represent USA this summer.
“I don’t typically need a very long taper, so my coach will not begin to rest me for a little while. I’m also excited to see South Korea. I love to travel so much, and any new place that I get the opportunity to see will never be forgotten.”
Despite that tremendous success at a very young age, Smith has handled the expectations and pressure to continue to perform at that high level with maturity.
She said she never wants to put pressure on herself, and she does that by not expecting any specific standards or goals.
“I think I train and compete my best when I put zero boundaries or limits on what I can accomplish,” she said. “As far as this summer goes, I will be feeling much more confident and relaxed. Although it is the same meet as Budapest 2017, I think that it will be an entirely different opportunity, and I’m really looking forward to it.
“I honestly think I’m a very similar person and swimmer to how I was when I made the World Championship team in 2017. That definitely isn’t a bad thing. I have been in a really good place over these past two years, and I am trying to continue to ride the wave of positivity and hard work that I created and refined back when I was about 15.”
The year before her big meet at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships in 2017, everyone got their first look at Smith when she made the semifinals and finished 13th in the 100 backstroke as a 14-year-old at 2016 Olympic Trials.
And while she admits Trials were a tough meet for her, Smith said she learned much about herself as a swimmer and competitor and has used that experience to her advantage.
“Although I was only 14, I think I put some pressure on myself that was super unnecessary,” she said. “Most of that summer was very mentally challenging for me, and I questioned a lot of what I was doing. Looking back on it now, I am so thankful that I went through that rough patch because it motivated me in a way that nothing else could.
“That summer is one I definitely won’t ever forget and it helps to keep me going during current rough patches in training. I haven’t made any drastic changes in my training since then. I just think that I have matured a lot and developed a different and more positive mindset.”
With Worlds in a few weeks and the Olympics within reach next summer, Smith said she is excited to continue to pursue her Olympic dream – something she grew up with since she started swimming.
It was something she wished for in her fifth-grade yearbook quote, and as she’s continued to improve, it’s something she feels is more and more realistic.
“There was never a distinct point where I thought the dream could turn into reality, mostly because I never want to expect something that isn’t insured,” said Smith, who said she is in no rush to make a decision about college. “As I’ve made my way through my swimming career, I think I’ve embraced its possibilities and gladly endured everything that has come with it.
“To be honest, I have always felt like I’ve been living my swimming dream. All I ever wanted was to have fun in my sport and be the absolute best I could be. There was never a certain ‘aha’ moment that I experienced where I realized what I was beginning to accomplish; it was just a great sport to compete in from the beginning.”
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