Rebecca Smith is only 14 years old, but she’s already one of the fastest swimmers in Canada.
At the Ontario Junior International in Toronto on the weekend, the Red Deer Catalina Swim Club member claimed her second Canadian age group record, this time in the 50-metre freestyle at 25.40 seconds, beating the previous mark by 0.12 seconds. Two years ago she set the 200-metre backstroke time for 12-year-olds, a mark that still stands.
“It felt really good, I just exploded off those blocks,” she said. “There’s no secret to the 50, you just got to sprint with all you got and keep your head down for the last 10 metres.”
The national-best time was just the beginning of her success in Toronto, also setting Alberta records in the 50-, 100- and 200-metre freestyle, the 200-metre backstroke and twice lowered the provincial time in the 100-metre fly.
She came back to Red Deer with gold in the 50-metre fly and silver in the 100- and 200-metre fly, beating not just Canada’s best young swimmers but some of the top international swimmers as well.
She has come a long way in seven years of guidance under head coach Mandi Smith — no relation.
“It’s pretty exciting, it’s Canadian national history,” said Mandi Smith. “We’re from a little pool, we don’t get the big pool and the big support that other cities get — Red Deer does the best they can for us but we don’t have the things that the big cities have. So to be able to compete at the national level is pretty exciting.”
The five-foot-nine Rebecca Smith is a well-rounded athlete who also runs cross-country and plays basketball with the Lindsay Thurber Raiders. Participating in multiple sports has helped sculpt her into a top swimmer — her favourite sport.
“It’s the feeling of going fast in the water, it’s way different than any other sport, it’s pretty cool,” she said.
Smith wasn’t the only Catalina swimmer setting records in Toronto at the new Pan-Am pool. Josh Young, 14, who won nine gold medals at the Canadian Age Group Championship in Winnipeg this summer, set a provincial record in the 100-metre breast stroke and twice in the 200-metre breast stroke and added an additional club record in the 50-metre free. Kristen Trepanier, 15, also had a club record in the 200-metre butterfly.
Rebecca Smith said they were able to feed off of each other’s success in the pool.
“We all push each other, if some one does super good that encourages us to do better and push us on,” she said.
The Catalina swim club has helped send a number of swimmers on to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level, like Halle Loyek at Dalhousie University and Brianna Bailey at Simon Fraser University, among others and it is also where former national team member Joel Greenshields got his start.
It is a goal Rebecca Smith should be able to shoot for long term.
“We do have a really rich swimming history,” said Mandi Smith. “There’s some really fast swimmers that come out of Red Deer. We just want to make sure we can help them and support them to whatever the next level is.”
In the short term, however, the world juniors in Singapore are in her sites for August with trials in Toronto in April. In March she will be moving up a division to the U-16s, so she will be one of the youngest in her age group.
“That 25.40 puts her really close to some of the big girls and the goal ultimately is to make that team in 2016,” said Mandi Smith. “If we can squeeze in on the relay and if not we’ll be shooting for our own event.”
This weekend the Catalinas are sending 35 kids to Edmonton at the JP Fiset Invitational.