Last season my meetings with Kelly were awful. The meetings themselves weren’t awful but the anticipation certainly was. I always imagined Kelly would start with something like “Kierra, not everyone is cut out to be a gopher”. That never happened but I always worried that my slow swimming would result in being replaced by one of the gazillion American teenaged breaststrokers who apply there….I mean apply here. After my pet hamster died I didn’t replace him because it would slow down my exit strategy if I ever needed to implement it (could be packed and out of MSP in 45 minutes). The meetings were always reassuring and I was reassured “Kierra, we’re all going to be here for you when you want to start swimming fast again”. My meeting earlier this week went really well…..more on it later. The plan at the beginning this year was to train hard through the Hawaii training camp (September-January then run the table by winning Big 10s, NCAAs and Canadian Trials. I mean, good to have lofty goals. A year ago I finished 2nd in the conference meet (2:08), 17th at NCAAs and 2:32 (6th place) at Canadian trials. This year I changed a lot of habits and put up better numbers and finished 1st at Big 10s, 6th at NCs and 2nd at trials. I didn’t run the table like I hoped but these are the numbers.
I think I’m most proud of the 6th at NCAAs. Here’s why. I made a conscious decision not to question anything about the Minnesota program this year including the volume, dual meets, racing in training suits, which meet to taper for or the whole yards vs. metres thing like I found myself doing every day last year. If I was going to flame out this year, again, it wasn’t going to leave a stone unturned. I adjusted to the rhythm of the program and slowly began to trust the program. My focus meet was the NCAA championship. Rested, shaved and tapered at our home pool a short walk from my apartment. My starting blocks, our own team room, massage tables and catered meals. I’d played the race in my mind a thousand times. I threw the kitchen sink at it trying to win and figured I had as good a chance as anyone. If you’ve never been to NCAAs it’s tough to describe….Sold out pool filled with alumni, parents, family, friends, the men’s team, old people, little kids asking for autographs, professors and tutors. The cheering starts the minute you leave the elevator for your wake up swim in the hotel (host team can’t stay in their apartments/dorms for some reason) and escalates when you walk onto the deck. It’s just wild and it’s like that for three days. For the200 br final I was in Lane 1 and I just couldn’t crack 2:06 (SCY) that night. Sixth place is sixth place. It’s way better than 2013 but it’s still 6th place. Although the 5 ahead of me are an impressive list of swimmers I wasn’t intimidated this year and felt pretty good about 206, even though I thought I had a faster time in me, because I knew it represented 7 months of giving everything I had and I still have two more cracks at this thing. Don’t misunderstand, I know through experience that this just might be as good as it ever gets here in USA for me and there are will be many land mines along the way but at least the roadmap is getting clearer to the top of that podium.
KELOWNA. A few days later I left school for a week and flew back home to Kelowna for a jam packed week which included dealing with passport issues, doctor, naturopath, dentist, RBC, hair appointment and tapering for Commonwealth Games / Pan Pac Trials with Emil and the liquid lightning crew. Kelowna might be the best place on earth. Not because of the 90 mile lake in the middle of town, mountains, wineries, golf courses, weather blah blah blah ., but because the owner of my favourite sushi restaurant in a sketchy strip mall on the highway beside a boarded up video store remembered my name, my order and gave me a hug telling me she missed me. Training with Emil, Rohan and David as though I didn’t miss a day. My dog going berserk when I walked in the door. My mom pretending not to cry. My dad’s favourite joke of pretending the car’s broken and is steering itself in to a starbucks parking lot. Hanging out with Emmet every minute I can. Emil made some adjustments to my stroke like he always does. Nothing major a few days out from Trials but just enough to put his signature on it. It was good to be swimming in a 50 metre pool again.
I drove to Victoria with my mom a day early because I needed to have my passport renewed to even be eligible to qualify for Pan Pacs and Commonwealths. There was an overwhelming feeling of angst with the entire passport situation but at least it took my mind off swimming. I wanted to get my race over with and was grateful it was on day 1. Making a national team would be new for me and I didn’t want to be the one left standing without a chair once the music stopped. Again.
I knew I was in a good place mentally and physically and wasn’t feeling any pressure from anyone. If I failed it wouldn’t really be that big of a deal. It would mean Summer kicking around Minneapolis going to races in California which I was looking forward to. I learned from last year that the people who love me will still love me regardless. My dog won’t care. I have some credibility in this sport and a pretty good resume but I haven’t made the big kid swim team yet and no one is sure if I’m ready for prime time. You can easily dwell on all the mornings and afternoons dedicated to this sport and be disappointed at the way things turn out or you can just put it behind you and keep going. Failing might feel devastating for a little while but really…what do you do when you don’t make a team? You go home. And that really is fine. I went home last summer and worked at dairy queen and hung out with my brother and did every Kelowna activity that I loved doing and it never felt like I was missing out on anything. It would just be a different Summer. On the blocks I wasn’t nervous for the 200 breast final this time around. Confident in my training, I was excited to race with my Liquid Lightning cap, I knew that I had teammates in Minneapolis and Kelowna who were supporting me and I knew how it would be OK if I messed up…again.
Emil’s strategy was to go out hard and fast in the morning to simulate a meet where I needed a fast time for heats/semi finals, then improve on that time at night. I secured lane 4 with a 2:26 in the morning and felt the best I’ve ever felt racing that distance. I finished with my 2nd best time ever. I knew that I would need to come 3rd and be under 2:28.. It felt manageable. At night the strategy was to copy/paste the morning swim with a harder finish. Ashley McGregor kicked my butt a couple of weeks ago in my home pool at NCAAs, I’ve never beaten Martha McCabe and same for Tera Van Beilen. Ever. Everything was going well for the first 130 metres. I had no idea where anyone was but I wasn’t about to let anyone run away from me no matter how much front end speed I lack.
Emil and I have this form of communication during a race that’s not unlike a master summoning his dog for dinner. A quick whistle immediately after my head comes up means I have to speed things up until his whistle cadence changes. A longer whistle in the middle of my stroke means to slow things down a bit. No whistle means all usually means OK and keep it on cruise control. But sometimes theres no pattern at all. (There really are a lot of flaws in that system. ) At the 130m mark Emil blew a double staccato whistle that I’d never heard before. Then on the next stroke he did it again. I looked around again and couldn’t figure out why. Lots left in the tank, no one running away from me and lots of pool left. We never went over the double staccato whistle and I didn’t know what to do. Maybe somebody was 3 body lengths in front and he was worried about what he saw. Maybe someone else is whistling. Mailette’s not a whistler. It certainly can’t be Nagy. Bultman doesn’t whistle. Maybe Titley’s whistling for Martha. Who the heck is this Wog girl and is her coach a whistler? … If someone was trying to mess with my head it was working. I decided that the quick double whistle meant to engage the index finger and press panic button. This means disengage auto pilot and make my move earlier than I’ve ever made it. I usually let it all loose on the final 30 so who know what would happen if I gunned it with 70m to go. It was a bad move but I sped up the final few strokes into the wall, rushed my turn and was out of control sprinting to the final wall. I had a bit of a lead on someone beside me but I was running on fumes at this point and can’t describe the pain. I really missed my 25 yard pool back in Minnesota now. Normally a 100% healthy Martha would have crushed me like a bug meeting a windshield at this point like she’s done to so many before but I suppose the lingering effects of her injury prevented that on this day. At the wall I was a bit slower than the
morning but still had a 2:26 which was enough to qualify. 2nd place. First thought was that I wasn’t going to hang around MSP this Summer and had to find a renter for my apartment. Afterwards Emil denied the double whistle saying he doesn’t even know how to do what I was describing. I was happier for him than I was for me. Emil has had a rough year losing Eli to cancer and then his house flooded and it just goes on and on. I hope he can figure out some way to go to Scotland or Australia with me this Summer but who has that kind of money. He also has 90 others to coach. Don’t know how to put into words how grateful I am for him and the years he’s believed in me
Minneapolis. They say Canadians go to America for excitement and Americans go to Canada to get away from it all. Going back to Minny was like a nice little break even though I missed two weeks of school and have exams to get ready for. Kelly Kremer has read the Kierra Smith owner’s manual and knows not to say “take as much time off as you feel you need” like he did last year and said to take a week away from the pool unless I felt like coming back sooner. I was just drained after six weeks of racing and mentally checked out of the Victoria meet after the 200 breast. Made “A” finals in 100br and 4IM but spent most of the time cheering on my friends and hanging out with Jenn. I met with Kelly and he was excited for me. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t just satisfied with making the Canadian team and wanted to make certain I’ll be ready to compete for podiums this Summer. “You get to race Americans in America all year then finish by racing Australians in Australia”. The message was that this opportunity doesn’t come up that often and we shouldn’t squander it. We went over the usual stuff like my exam schedule and how/when/where I’d train until I went back to Kelowna to get ready for Canada Cup in Vancouver. The usual logistical stuff. He was disappointed that he had to cancel his trip to Victoria because he wanted to be with Breanne and I. He had something come up at the last minute and had to stay back in Minneapolis. I like having two coaches because they look my swims differently with unique observations much like two people see a work of art differently ( or, depending on the swim, how two witnesses describe the same horrific car crash differently). Emil has an eastern European Iron Curtain “just outwork everyone” attitude while Kelly brings his Amecican-can-do-let’s-conquer-the-world-then-keep-conquering-until-we’re-bored and looks at you funny if you have any doubt it’s possible.
Thanks for reading. Follow me on twitter at @kierras if you want a daily dose of this sort of stuff.
May 23-25 Canada Cup Zajac
May 30-June 1 Kamloops (maybe just for a day)
June 26-29 Fran Crippen Swim Meet of Champions Mission Viejo Calif.
July 13-20 Sabadell Spain training camp
July 24-28 Glasgow Commonwealth Games
August 21-25 Pan Pacific Championships. Gold Coast Australia.
April 25 2014
April 24, 2014