Rebecca Smith will live out her swimming dream this summer.
The 21-year-old Red Deer product was one of 26 swimmers named to Canada’s Olympic Swimming Team Thursday, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” she said in a phone interview from Toronto just a few hours after the official announcement.
“We did get some of our gear (Thursday) so it’s kind of fun looking through it. It’s slowly starting to become real.”
That reality is a dream come true for the talented swimmer, who remembers thinking about the Olympics when she was a kid, not really knowing how or if she would get there.
“When I was a kid I would definitely dream of it but now that it’s become real, it’s all a dream, it’s crazy,” she said.
“I can’t even put it into words. I dreamt of it, but I didn’t think it would actually become reality.”
Smith was named to Team Canada after she competed at the Canadian Olympic Trials in Toronto from June 19 to 23. She finished third in the 100 metre butterfly in 57.93 seconds, third in the 200m freestyle in 1:58.76 and sixth in the 100m freestyle. The third-place finish in the butterfly, one of her main events, came on the opening night of trials. She missed out on a guaranteed spot at the Olympics by about a tenth of a second.
That miss could have easily derailed her whole week but she rebounded with a third-place finish one night later in the 200m freestyle to punch her ticket to the Olympics.
“I just felt like I could breathe again. It was definitely a huge weight off my shoulders,” she said.
“I was really happy with my result (in the 200m butterfly) especially under that kind of pressure. I think I was definitely upset after just missing. Turning it around after that race and coming in on the second day and getting the job done was really exciting.”
The top-four finish in that race means she’ll likely compete for Canada in the 4x200m freestyle relay in Tokyo.
Despite her lack of Olympic experience, Smith is no stranger to representing Canada in the relay on the international swimming scene.
She has raced for Canada in the relay on multiple occasions, with the most recent at the 2019 FINA World Championships. She was a member of the women’s 4x100m medley at that event and part of the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle teams that captured bronze.
At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Smith was a member of the 4x200m freestyle relay team that brought home silver.
In 2018, at the Pan Pacific Championships, Smith was a member of the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays that captured bronze.
As for Tokyo, Smith is one of 16 Canadian swimmers who will make their Olympic debut this summer and to say it’s been a long road would be an understatement.
In the early days of the pandemic, Smith was stuck at home in Red Deer, running, cross-training and doing whatever she could to stay in shape. That included calling in some favours, as family friends even offered up their pools for her to train while pools were closed in the city.
“It’s been one of the most challenging years of training and just mentally that I’ve ever experienced. Last year, around March 2020 they announced the Games would be cancelled. Everything was crazy,” she said.
“I was at home in Red Deer and all the pools were closed. I tried to take that time to soak it all in… there were so many people in Red Deer that supported me and helped me.”
She returned to Toronto for much of the past year, getting ready for trials, which were moved twice and in doubt for much of the spring.
“I’ve just been super lucky, to train here and have a pool. I know pools have been closed across the country for a long time. I’m super thankful that I was able to train,” said Smith, who trains out of High Performance Centre in Toronto.
“Just having my teammates around me too, helped me get through the year. I’m just so glad that the games are going forward, I think it’s super exciting.”
She was back in the pool Thursday training again before heading off to Vancouver for Olympic pre-staging. They’ll depart for Japan in mid-July. The Olympics will take place from July 23 to Aug. 8.