Like so many others, Regan Smith has learned to make do in the midst of the pandemic. Over the summer, when coronavirus concerns prevented her from traveling to Florida to train in an Olympic-size pool, she gladly accepted the best alternative her coach could find.
It was a community pool in Northfield. Outdoors. And the only time slot available was at 5:30 a.m.
“At the end of August, when it was 55 degrees and pitch black, it wasn’t ideal,” said Smith, the world champion swimmer from Lakeville. “But in June, when the sun was up, it was awesome. And it was great to get long-course training, no matter where it was.”
Smith, 18, has gotten used to adapting in these unpredictable times. She made the difficult decision to defer her enrollment at Stanford — and the start of her college swimming career — because of uncertainty about how the pandemic would affect classes and training. With the 2020 Olympics rescheduled for next summer, Smith will train toward the Tokyo Games in her home pool with longtime coach Mike Parratto.
Instead of sharing the Stanford pool with Olympic stars such as Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel, Smith will swim with club teammates at Bluewater Aquatic Center in Apple Valley. Her education at one of the nation’s finest universities is on hold, replaced by two courses from Normandale Community College taken online at her mother’s dining-room table.
Still, Smith is striving to make the most of her scaled-back world. In a sport that is all about speed, she doesn’t want to be caught flat when things open up again.
“I’m just trying to go with the flow,” said Smith, who holds world records in the 100- and 200-meter backstrokes. “It would be easy to be angry, but so many people are in the same boat as me.
“It’s unfortunate, and things are definitely weird. But you have to make the best of it.”
The nation’s top recruit, Smith won gold medals in the 200 back and 400 medley relay at the 2019 world championships. After graduating from Lakeville North in June, she was eager to begin training at Stanford under coach Greg Meehan, who also will coach the U.S. women’s team at the Olympics.
The pandemic led her to rethink her plans. Stanford, which hoped to reopen its campus for the fall quarter, announced nearly all classes would be held online. The swim team canceled its annual training trip to Hawaii. Smith worried about following disease-prevention protocols while living in a dormitory.
It wasn’t the way she envisioned her freshman year. After wrestling with the decision for weeks, Smith opted to stay in a familiar environment for the time being.
“It seemed like a very stressful situation to voluntarily put myself in,” she said. “There were fewer variables if I stayed home, and I felt like it would ultimately be better for my training and my well-being.
“It was hard to tell my teammates, especially my freshman class. We had planned to [start school] together for so long. And I was really nervous to tell Greg, too, but they were all very understanding.”
Smith said Meehan fully supported her decision, which eased her sadness. She also knew she wasn’t alone. Several of Smith’s friends are taking gap years, and she is among three Stanford recruits who are delaying the start of their college swimming careers.
After an unusual summer, with lighter practices and no meets or travel, Smith’s training schedule will return to normal this month. The season is scheduled to begin with two TYR Pro Series meets in November, which would be the first elite competitions in the U.S. since March.
When the 2020 season was suspended, Smith had the fastest times in the world this year in the 100 back (58.18 seconds) and 200 back (2:05.94).
She also was ranked second in the 200 butterfly (2:06.39) and fourth in the 100 fly (57.34). Parratto said Smith has handled this year’s challenges well.
“She is so dedicated to what she does,” he said. “That hasn’t changed. There have been some speed bumps, but she still has that desire to be as good as she can be.”
With no camps or competitions for months, Smith said she misses seeing her friends. She plans to race at the pro series opener Nov. 5-8 in Richmond, Va., and is crossing her fingers that it isn’t canceled.
If it is, she will adapt once again.
“What will be will be,” Smith said. “With so much uncertainty, it can be hard. But all you can do is keep working.”