It didn’t bother Regan Smith when her high school switched its graduation ceremony to an online event. Months ago, the Lakeville North senior decided to skip Saturday’s traditional walk across the stage, opting to spend her graduation day in a Florida pool to prepare for the Olympic swimming trials.
“I was supposed to be training in Fort Myers this week, so I wouldn’t have been there anyway,” Smith said. “Of course, that trip isn’t happening now.”
Though she never flinched at missing out on a teenage rite of passage, other losses have been harder for Smith to accept. The two-time world champion just got back in the water Monday, after coronavirus-related shutdowns closed her pool for more than two months. She was expected to be one of the brightest stars of the Tokyo Olympics, now delayed for a year.
This month’s Olympic trials, and every other meet this summer, have been canceled. College could be on hold, too; if Stanford doesn’t resume on-campus classes this fall, Smith, 18, might defer the start of her NCAA swim career.
She has no idea when her world might turn right-side up again. Until it does, all Smith can do is try to stay on top of the waves.
“It could be easy to have a bad attitude,” said Smith, the world-record holder in the 100- and 200-meter backstrokes. “I’m really trying hard to remind myself what I’m doing right now is such a privilege, given the circumstances.
“I just need to be thankful for every chance I get to be in the water. And I just need to be ready for whenever that first competition comes.”
Smith had just finished a record-setting meet in Des Moines when the coronavirus began to suspend sports around the country. She broke the U.S. records for the women’s 17-18 age group in the 100 butterfly (57.34 seconds) and 200 butterfly (2:06.39), and she swam the fastest time in the world this year in the 100 backstroke (58.18).
At last year’s world championships, Smith set world records in the 100 and 200 back while winning gold in the 200 back and the 400 medley relay.
She typically has nine swim practices a week at Apple Valley’s Bluewater Aquatic Center, augmented by three strength-training sessions. Minnesota’s stay-at-home order closed the pool on March 16, leaving her and the rest of the Riptide Swim Team stuck on dry land. That cut Smith’s training time from more than 20 hours per week to about six.
Using resistance bands and dumbbells, she could work the same muscle groups that power her strokes in the pool. She maintained cardiovascular fitness by running on a treadmill, but it wasn’t the same.
“The first day I was back in the water, it was very funky,” Smith said. “It felt totally foreign, like I had never swum before. But I’m getting back into things pretty quickly.”
That has required some adapting. The pool is operating under restrictions to deter the spread of coronavirus, with only one swimmer allowed per lane and athletes split into practice groups of eight to 10 people. Only essential personnel are allowed in the building, and everyone has their temperature taken at the door. Smith’s allotment of 70 to 90 minutes per day in the water is less than half of her usual pool time.
She expected to swap her Riptide swim cap for a Stanford one soon, but that also could be delayed. If classes are not held on campus this fall, Smith might defer her enrollment and continue working with longtime coach Mike Parratto for the time being. Cardinal coach Greg Meehan has signed off on that possibility, she said.
“What I want more than anything is to be able to go this year and have a good year,” Smith said. “But I don’t want my first quarter to be online, in an isolated setting. I’m still young. It will still be there for me next year. And Greg said whatever route I take, he’s going to support it.”
Smith had other things to occupy her mind this week, as she picked up her cap and gown and said goodbye to her Lakeville North teachers. On June 21 — the day the Olympic trials were supposed to start — she is looking for something fun to do, to push back the sadness she knows she will feel.
As for her longer-term plans, Smith understands she will have to be patient.
“Everything is in the hands of the virus right now,” she said. “I’m just along for the ride.”