I was disqualified in my very first race. It was about ten years ago in Penticton BC in a prelim of the 200IM. I was entered with a NT and the official told me after my race right after I got out of the water that I was disqualified. He handed me a Dairy Queen coupon for a free ice cream which is what they did back then. I started arguing which escalated to crying then screaming and I won’t lie, there may or may not have been some contact. My poor coach had to drag me away and gave up trying to calm me down and eventually gave up and let me run out of gas on my own. I honestly thought that a DSQ meant I would be kicked out of the meet and the whole team would have to go home. Said sorry to everyone afterwards and still feel badly about that one.

Fast forward 10 years to day 1 of the Canadian Trials. I figured it would be nice to get the 200 breast out of the way first so could relax and enjoy the meet stress free. Emil’s racing strategy has always been to go all out during prelims and make sure I get lane 4. After I DQd Emil was apoplectic and acted a bit like 11 year old me but with a little more self-control. He settled down soon enough and wrote our appeal in just under the 30 minute deadline and handed it to one of the officials. Emil is a pretty smart guy and I don’t know anyone better at communicating with teenagers but english isn’t his first language and his written english sometimes isn’t Pulitzer worthy stuff. He sends few emails and they’re usually 3 to 10 words max. I was watching him shake his head and grind his teeth as he wrote out our appeal. I was imagining him writing something like “YOU ALL MAKE MISTAKE…..SHE DO NO WRONG”. Props to him though because whatever he wrote worked and I was given a reprieve and allowing me to race finals that night.

I left the pool late and couldn’t sleep before finals. Kelly and Emil were on the opposite sides of the pool as the judge who DQd me and they were both in agreement that I change nothing that night and do my thing as I normally would. We talked about my head, neck, shoulder and arm positioning and how everything is connected and if my stroke was consistent I’d be ok. I’m really not sure if either of them truly believed what they were saying but they were singing from the same song sheet so that was the plan. I’m pretty good at reading both of my coaches and was convinced they weren’t in “it’s-too-freakin-late-to-change-your-stroke-now….those-sorts-of-things-take-months!” mode. Long story short, DQ again. This appeal turned out to be futile and in retrospect we probably shouldn’t have made it. Should have just taken our medicine.

Emil wrote out another appeal, the referee took another 30 minutes to reject it but allowed it to go to some panel to hear both sides. I had a feeling this was going to go south when my dad, who doesn’t pretend to know anything about swimming at this level and was on the same side as the judge said “it did kind of look like your left elbow popped out of the water… pause pause pause pause….a couple of times”. You know how it turned out. I would have gone with “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE RECONSIDER” in my appeal but we left the pool empty handed.

It was pretty impressive how everyone involved with this decision handled the whole thing and they certainly were thorough. Agree or disagree with the ruling, everyone knew the rule inside out, everyone wanted to make sure the right decision was made and they were going to take as long as necessary. As the clock ticked on (even the distance swimmers were leaving the pool) I thought I might have a chance with this jury but not so lucky the second time. It did look to me like they felt really badly about the whole thing. No ice cream coupon though.

When I won the 200 at NCAAs earlier this year in Greensboro the best thing about it for me was that I was able to share it with the 50 people or so who’ve been there every day with me who had a genuine stake in the result and took as much pride in it as I did. They were just as excited about winning as I was and I don’t think I could ever thank them enough. On the flip side, when things went wrong in Toronto those same 50 people were still there with me feeling the same pain which made getting through it a lot easier. I’m blessed to be surrounded by a lot of good people. I’m in a good place.

Next day Kelly, Emil and I had a new and improved talk about arm positioning as I got ready for the 100. Last chance to make the team. The theory on day 2 was that I get sloppy when I’m tired and my dominant side takes over when I put my race into overdrive lifting my left arm out of the water. Ya, let’s go with that. I usually don’t get nervous about the 100 because it’s not my bread and butter. This time though it was my last chance. He wouldn’t admit it but I know Emil wanted go to Russia more than anyone in that pool. It might be a Bulgarian thing. Maybe for Bulgarians visiting Kazan in the summer is like 5 year old American kids missing school to go to Disneyland. I managed a best time and second place but not enough to qualify for Russia. I knew I had made the Pan Am team but that was the consolation prize.

I had a chance for selection as a priority iii qualifier based on my times from last year. Yes, it involved another written request to a selection committee and was putting my fate in other people’s hands. I decided I was going to be ok with whatever happened and whatever happened I was just going to roll with it. The big prize at the end of the ride is Rio and if I wasn’t picked I’d have a lot more time to train for next year.

I found out at the end of the meet that I made the Worlds team. Making a team as a discretionary pick is sort of like having a guaranteed spot on a select hockey team because your dad volunteered to be the coach. You still get the cool gear and go on road trips out of Kelowna but everyone knows why you’re really on the team and no one can say anything to you. Some kids are ok with this and others aren’t. My feeling as I prepare for Kazan as a discretionary pick is that there’s a little more pressure on me this year compared to Pan Pacs last year. This time around I’m accountable to a person, or group of people who likely had to stick their necks out for me and it adds to the people I don’t want to let down. I usually only have to worry about myself. I think this is going to be a good thing though and I think I’m going to do something special this summer. I know you don’t get handed too many lifelines so no point in squandering it.

I’m getting ready to head back to Kelowna and looking forward to that. The last few weeks have involved classes, libraries and studying for exams. We race Wisconsin in a dual meet this weekend which will put a bow on my Gopher season. I’ll be heading to Europe for the Mare Nostrum tour in June and am planning a week of training in Victoria sometime this summer before the big meets to end the year.

The Pan Am Games look like they will be a lot of fun. I’ll have lots of family there it’s going to be great swimming in a meet like this on front of a Canadian crowd. I switched events and will be doing the 200 instead of the 100 which I’m certainly OK with (see, things work out for me).

Thanks for reading.

Kierra Smith
Minneapolis, MN

April 30, 2015