I just about lost it standing on that podium and it was tough keeping it together. You don’t rehearse being on a podium at home playing your national anthem and I don’t think anything can prepare you for that moment when it comes. It was 10 times better having Martha and I going 1-2 and being up there with her too. Heck, I enjoyed having Annie Lazor up there with us. Like everyone else, I just got through cheering on the Canadian women’s soccer team for most of last month, then I spent Canada day in Victoria celebrating everything Canada and finally when it came to singing Oh Canada for those couple of minutes my knees just about buckled.

I wrote in this space a few weeks ago that I hoped the Toronto Pan Am Games crowd would be as loud and into it as the crowd at NCAAs when they were held in Minnesota last year. I didn’t think it would be possible but it was all that times a thousand. Toronto rolled out the red carpet for us and I’ll never forget the experience of the last couple of weeks regardless of what happens with my career. The pool was sold out and the really encouraging thing is that I think most of the tickets were sold to 10-14 year old girls who are the loudest and most enthusiastic of all the cohorts. And they brought their “A” game. A lot of the Canadian swimmers stayed around after our races and met as many people as we could taking pictures and signing all sorts of things. As far as I could tell, most of the fans were Toronto area swimmers and their parents and they were all knowledgeable about our sport. It was overwhelming how many of them there were and humbling to be on the receiving end of all that support. As swimmers, we spend so much time all alone with our thoughts swimming back and forth, lap after lap, it was such an energy charge being loved like that. I wish that meet could have gone on forever and I wish I could have thanked each and every one of them individually.

My mom and dad both came to this meet and so did a lot of relatives. I didn’t realize how many Smiths/McLellans there were in Southern Ontario and they were out in full force with red shirts and home made posters. I had about twenty people in the stands including aunts, uncles and cousins from Welland, Kitchener, Calgary and Ottawa. A Kelowna masters swimmer traveling through to Nova Scotia brought his family to cheer and a couple of friends from high school who go to university in Toronto showed up. It would have been fun even if there wasn’t a swim meet.

I could not only hear the crowd inside the ready rooms but it felt like an earthquake waiting for my race underneath the seats. I’m used to swimming in relatively quiet pools where I’m able to hear Emil whistle telling me to speed up or slow down. Even at Pan Pacs last Summer Emil was in the crowd somewhere telling me to speed up on the 3rd 50 but not so lucky here. Instead it was nothing but noise from start to finish and I tried to tap into it instead of sticking to a normal race plan….you know, counting strokes, gauging the walls, constantly measuring energy levels, peeking left then right, etc. I switched to racing for the crowd and to heck with the risk of running out of gas early. It worked for 198 metres and even though I judged the last wall perfectly I just couldn’t find it in me to take that last stroke and floated into the wall instead. The crowd had more energy than me. 2:24! Progress from this time last year, untapered, season best and a win is a win.

You’ll hear the letters IST used a lot at high level meets like this. Integrated Support Teams are groups of individuals who know what they’re doing and do whatever is necessary to help their athletes get an edge. Nutritionists, massage therapists, chiropractors, sports psychologogists, physiotherapists and strength coaches measuring, testing and providing feedback. Invaluable people really especially in a sport that’s measured to the hundredth of a second. They all have their area of expertise and collectively know the mind and body of high performance athletes inside out. Pretty much all the things Emil does in any given week. I told Emil of the setup we had at the games and that he was my personal IST team. Emil pretty much does the job of 10. Even though Emil wasn’t in Toronto he was sending me workouts, I was doing them, and we were communicating back and forth at least once a day. We’re not perfect, somewhat hokey, maybe a bit too folksy, you’d anomamously leave soup for us at our pool if you knew our budget but considering everything I can’t believe every small town swim club doesn’t model themselves after our program in West Kelowna. After my win Emil gave me a full day and a half off before getting me back in the pool because he knew I would be interviewed and would be in front of a lot of iphone cameras and knew I would want to straighten my hair and keept it straight as long as possible. You know, important things. I was told in Toronto to be on notice in case I had to do the relay but Emil knew there was zero chance since all we needed a safe morning swim. I tried to stay focussed just in case but I mentally checked out of the meet and was already thinking about worlds.

I’m in Spain now getting ready for Russia next month. No predictions from me about how it’s going to go but it’s certainly been a good year in every measurable aspect and I’ve achieved every written time goal and I can see the finish line. It’s right there. I’m greatful I’ve been healthy all year and I’ve surrounded myself with really good people from Minnesota to Kelowna/West Kelowna. Except for swallowing a gallon of water on the last turn in Doha and that elbow thing (ok, those elbow things) last April it’s gone pretty much according to script. I’ve raced a lot this Summer and am looking forward to my taper. We’re all going to find out together if I’m breakable or not when I step up on those blocks in centra Russia.

Thanks for reading, thanks for your encouragement, thanks for your kind words of support. I’m going to go off the grid, at least blog wise, until after I get back from Russia. I’m going to spend a week in Nova Scotia after worlds playing cards, fishing, drinking Sprite, and not swimming. My parents told my grandparents to not even drive me to a pool if I asked.. (I wouldn’t have asked, my hair is going to be straightened.)

Kierra Smith
Sabadell, Spain

July 22, 2015