By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Regan Smith had a big summer, and that’s an understatement. She finaled at Worlds in Budapest, and came back even faster for World Juniors. Only 15 years old, Regan has a lot coming up, from choosing a college to international swimming. The best part? She has time for it all, and she is enjoying all the opportunities she has earned. In this first of a two-part 20 Question Tuesday, the Minnesota native talks about what she’s learned, and how it is shaping her moving forward, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. So did 2017 match up with what you had hoped?
Regan: Going into the year, i had no idea what would come out of it. I definitely went above my expectations. I was so happy. I don’t even know how to describe 2017, it was (laughs) crazy. So no, I didn’t expect it to go this well.
2. How cool was Budapest?
Regan: It is an amazing city and I didn’t realize it until I got there and saw all the amazing architecture.
3. Did you learn about how it was two cities?
Regan: I didn’t realize that either until one of the last days -- that it was two cities. I thought someone was playing a trick on me when they told me about it, then I learned about it and the history of the city, and I thought that was really great.
4. Did you get to see any of the city?
Regan: I did get to do a little sight seeing. We had a strip mall and stores behind our hotel. We also used water taxis to take us to the pool, and we got to see a lot of cool things going back and forth. I took so many pictures.
5. How about finaling in your first big senior level meet
Regan: Making it to the final was really really crazy. Going into it, obviously my goal was to hopefully make it back and squeeze into a semi somewhere. So that was important because I didn’t want to feel like I was in over my head.
6. Does the experience itself help you?
Regan: Oh yes, definitely. It felt like my first race at Olympic Trials. (At Worlds) The pool so pretty, and the arena so huge. I was like, “Whoa:. After absorbing it all and taking that experience, along with the other meets (last) year, it should help me so much.
7. Worlds is a big stage, isn’t it?
Regan: It’s the biggest stage I have swam on. I think that’s a big thing, because it’ll help calm my nerves at a future meet. I’ll know I’ve done it before so I won’t have that to think about or wonder what it will be like. I’ll have the mindset of having been there.
8. All your teammates raved about how well you fit in -- did you expect that?
Regan: Well, I hoped to fit in -- just being with them all was so cool. Oh my gosh, going into Worlds I was so terrified. “What if I don’t have a good time? What if they don’t like me?” All those (laughs) stupid thoughts. Everyone was so nice and kind. It really felt like a family at the end of it.
9. The veterans seemed to really want to be around you and take you under their wings, didn’t they?
Regan: They really were welcoming and showed me the ropes. Everyone was amazing. I couldn’t have done and had that kind of experience without everyone’s kindness.
10. After seeing your team jell, do you see even more value in team chemistry?
Regan: I totally think that helps people perform to the best of their ability. I think without that or if there was even a low-key tension, it wouldn’t be as great an experience and people would have a harder time being their best.
11. Is part of performing so well that all of you are representing the United States?
Regan: When it comes down to it, you are performing for the USA, not yourself. It’s a boost of energy and all that positivity affects you, so I think it’s really important. And I think it makes it a lot more fun. You form those great relationships, and it makes it more memorable, too.
12. You were smiling ear to ear -- was that happiness?
Regan: I felt so unbelievably proud. And thankful. There’s no other feeling like it, honestly. It feels like the entire country is behind you -- that’s what it feels like when you put on that flag and wear “USA.” You see and hear all your teammates in the stands cheering you on. You put on that USA cap, and it’s just an incredibly powerful feeling.
13. Did a bunch of veterans talk to you or just a few?
Regan: It was so cool, because, honestly, everybody had so much advice to give to me. They knew I’d be nervous, so they talked about what helped themselves when they were going through it. And others just wanted to have regular conversations of who I am and where I am from, and what we might have in common for what we like or enjoy -- and that was especially great. Actually, when you’re with a group of leaders like that, especially the ones who have had so much international experience and success, sometimes they don’t really have to say anything -- you just watch them do their own thing and learn that way. That was important for me -- to realize that. I always thought I had no idea what I was doing. But after watching so many greats, I realized that I really did kind of know what I was doing. Everyone does what works best for them, and that’s something important to realize. You watch and learn from them, but in certain ways, you make it your own -- and they expect and want you to do that, too.
14. How fun is it to look up and see Katie Ledecky or Simone Manuel or Elizabeth Beisel or Lilly King, and the others?
Regan: It is really cool. Sometimes I have to step back and realize how much everything has changed. At Nationals, I wouldn’t say I actually (laughs) stared at them, but I would think it was just so cool I was racing these guys. Then I get to become their friend at Worlds. I forget sometimes how much it has changed, but to think about it is so cool.
15. Did you like training with them?
Regan: It was really cool. I think looking back at it, I remember when I was doing it I was so scared! We did a distance set with 400 pulls long course, for five minutes -- I’ve never done anything like that! I had to spring so hard to make the times at first. Training with Katie Ledecky is just incredible, but looking back on it, it was (laughs) definitely cool training with them.
16. Was it hard recovering from that practice?
Regan: After making it through the first practice I felt like I fit in, and I knew the coaching staff know what they are doing. You see these intense competitors on TV and it’s just so incredible to see it up close. And I guess i’m the same way as far as having that tunnel vision and getting in the zone. So while it’s intimidating at first before you know them, it’s cool to see the other side -- that this is just how they compete, and how I do, too.
17. You had fun at Worlds, too, didn’t you, with another young star like yourself, Dakota Luther, didn’t you?
Regan: Dakota is awesome That was a blast. Just so fun. I hardly knew Dakota at all before we roomed together at Worlds and she’s one of my best friends now. I love her so much. I know whenever we are on a trip together again it will be so fun!
18. Hanging out with her, did that make it easier to acclimate with so many older stars on the team?
Regan: I mean, it was really nice to have her. Sometimes in the room we’d talk about we didn’t know what was going on or what we were doing next, so having someone else who was a rookie to hang out with and share questions was great. We talked a lot about the incredible dynamics on the team, or how fast someone went at practice -- or all the cool foods at dinner!
19. The food in Budapest was that good?
Regan: Yes, for sure! I heard it was the best food on a National Team trip in a long time. They said the food was so good. In Croatia (at team camp before Worlds), we had fresh food on platters every day and devoured that. I would’ve gone crazy on desserts -- that’s what I hover over! And Dakota (laughs) does, too.
20. I saw you with the guy captains and i think Caeleb Dressel, what was that like?
Regan: The guys' captains, yes, they are so nice. Nathan (Adrian) and Matt (Grevers) are such great swimmers, but even better people and leaders. They are always so supportive and nice. They’d say something or point out something you did well and it’d make you feel so good about yourself and know that you were doing things right or on the right track.
And one time after practice in Croatia, Dakota and I were sitting by ourselfs, and Caeleb Dressel came up to us! He was so nice, he asked, “Can I eat breakfast with you two?” And we’re (laughs) like, “Ok, yeah, sure!” And you know what? It was just casual conversation. Just a wonderful person. He asked about our families and what we were swimming, just basic stuff to get to know us. He was super sincere which made it super cool. And here I am so nervous because (laughs) it’s CAELEB DRESSEL!!! but it turns out he’s one of the nicest people ever.
In next week’s Part II, Regan tells us about what it was like being around superstar Lilly King, and also fills us in on coming back from Budapest to represent the U.S. yet again at World Juniors.