For 10-year-old Regan Smith, swimming is not just a sport. It's a passion, and that passion has paid off.
The fifth-grader blew the competition out of the water last month, breaking four National Age Group records during the Fox Jet meet at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. "I was so excited. I was so shocked, I didn't even freak out at first. It took a few days for it to hit me," said the young star, relaxing with her dad and sipping a smoothie after school.
The records she broke were held by swimmers who went on to be Olympians, and not surprisingly, Regan has her sights set on Brazil, where she hopes to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
While she certainly looks like an average 10-year-old, with sparkly Uggs and missing baby teeth, her accomplishments set her decidedly apart from others in her age group.
"It puts her in the company of the best 10-and-under swimmers in the world," said Phil Smith, her coach with the South Metro Swim Club, who has worked with her for more than two years.
But Regan's ability to keep a level head is a big part of her success, according to her dad, Paul Smith, and her primary coach, Jim Andersen. Andersen, who has coached Minnesota swimmers for nearly 40 years, including 19 at the University of Minnesota, said Regan is "very humble, and that's a good thing."
Andersen has been coaching Regan since September and said she has the defining characteristics of an elite level athlete. He called her a good listener who loves swimming and loves coming to practice.
"Regan is just where she needs to be if she wants to be one of the best swimmers in the nation and hopefully in the world." And Andersen should know, having coached Mallory Weggemann of Eagan, who won a swimming gold medal at the 2012 Paralympics.
Reaching that kind of level takes tremendous commitment. "There is a lot of hard work and dedication, wanting to be there. There is a lot of work outside of the pool, workouts, running, push-ups, sit-ups," she said. Her typical training week involves a lot of training inside the pool too. Regan says she usually swims five days a week for up to two hours a day, covering 4,000 to 5,000 yards.
Gold medalist Missy Franklin is one of her idols. "I like how she is always smiling, and I like how dedicated she is and how she is always so happy," Regan said.
Those are traits that Regan also seems to possess. Her dad describes her as funny and outgoing, a kid who is laid back and enjoys hanging out with friends, listening to music and watching movies.
The sky is the limit when it comes to the young athletes' goals, but Paul Smith is interested in making sure his daughter stays grounded. "For me as a parent you wonder, are you putting too much pressure on your kid? My approach has been I have tried not to," he said. He said it's more important to him that she is having fun than setting records.
For Regan, it seems the two go hand in hand. Her next big meet is the state championships in mid-March. She will be 11 by then and says she is "very excited" to compete.
With all the success in her life right now, it's hard to think about failure, but when asked if she ever does face it, she replies with an earnest look: "I think about it a lot, actually. I worry about it, and that's why I go to practice and work so hard. I just try my absolute hardest not to let it happen."
She grins. "Because it's fun to win."
Lannie Walker is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.