Representing the International swimming scene, this B.C. native began training nearly straight from the womb on long runs in the stroller with her marathon and Ironman-loving father. She was obsessed with the water from a young age and often accompanied her father during lap swims and runs. Kierra Smith’s fate was sealed after being asked to try out for a local club team: “I instantly fell in love with the training, competition atmosphere, and being around teammates all the time.”
You may recognize Smith’s small frame and smiling face representing Canada in the final heat of the 200-meter breaststroke at the Rio Olympics. Though she stands just 5’8″, Smith’s presence can hardly be overlooked. She humbly credits her parents and coaches who consistently supported her pursuit of swimming through the nitty gritty of driving to morning and afternoon practices, chaperoning meets, and knowing what to say after competitions when races either went well or poorly. It takes a strong community to raise successful swimmers, and Kierra strives to give back to the sport by providing the same consistency and guidance to those entering the sport.
Smith grew up training under the careful guidance of coach Emil Dimitrov, whose coaching philosophy is heavily based on proper technique in the developmental stages of swimming. This foundation set Smith up for tremendous success not only in her swim career, but also in creating her own philosophy toward teaching and coaching others. “I spent the last 13 years learning and practicing how to swim breaststroke efficiently and learning the ins and outs of swimming. My goal is to pass this knowledge on to younger swimmers.”
Smith’s experience with a coach who never discouraged trying new techniques has translated into a strong coach-swimmer dynamic as a clinician, striving to work in partnership with one another to figure out the best stroke for each individual. “I love when kids want to try something different. There is no text-book way to swim.”
Her recipe for success in the water is straightforward: “The world is run by people who show up. As long as you keep showing up and trying your best, things will work out. Being there, having fun and working on one skill a day is enough.” Consistency and not giving yourself excuses are key ways to improve.
Smith traded the mountains and rain of B.C. for the snow and prestige of being a Minnesota Gopher swimmer and graduate, furthering her skills under the leadership of Kelly Kremer. Smith helped lead her team to several NCAA titles. But under all the glitter and recognition, she remains unmoved in her focus and character: “I have learned to lead by example and to have a positive attitude day in and day out. I also know how long of a road it was to get here.”
Smith has a unique outlook on training and racing and desires to impart this outlook on those she has the opportunity to work with. Instead of becoming negative toward yourself after a training session or race that did not go as planned, Smith encourages people to use it as a learning opportunity to improve. “Always evaluate, never judge,” she says. “The race is never 100% bad or 100% good. Time is not a reflection of who you are.”
When thinking about working with young swimmers in clinics and coaching sessions, she becomes giddy with excitement. “I would do anything to trade places with one of the participants so I could do it all again. Enjoy the work!” she says.