By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, November 29, 2018
By comparison to most of the world’s top swimmers, Meghan Small got a late start in the sport.
She didn’t start competitive swimming until she was 12. A natural athlete, before that she dreamed of a future in soccer. One in the pool outside of the occasional dip for fun in the summer wasn’t on her radar.
But when her family doctor told her she needed to find a lower-impact sport to take the stress off of her ailing knees, she looked to swimming – and she’s never looked back.
Now a member of the U.S. National Team – and also recently named to next summer’s Pan American Games team – Small is happy her future involves water rather than land.
“I’m a big believer in fate, so I think this happened because it was meant to happen,” said Small, the silver medalist in the 200 individual medley at 2015 Pan Ams. “Only time I swam regularly before that was in summer league when I was 8, but I got into soccer because I was able to take out my aggression more. It didn’t take long before I was attacking the water.”
Small said when she first started she could barely swim a 25 yard butterfly.
Her coach at the Hanover (Md.) YMCA gave her fins to help her improve, and because he believed in proficiency in all strokes rather than specializing on just one, she became a well-rounded swimmer.
Initially, her best strokes were breast (despite the added pressure on her knees from the kick) and freestyle.
But because she isn’t one to give up easily or accept that she can’t do something, it didn’t take Small long before fly was among her strongest.
“I’ve always been that kid – the one who hates to be told I can’t do something; all that does is make me want to do it more to prove that I can,” she said. “So, when I struggled with fly, I was more determined than ever to make it a strength. It wasn’t long before I was strong in all the strokes – and that led me to swim the IM.”
Along the way to building a stronger fly, Smith changed teams and went from making a 15-minute drive to practice to a 35-minute trek to give herself every opportunity possible to get better.
Now in her junior year at the University of Tennessee, Small said she has continued her improvement in all strokes under the guidance of Matt Kredich and his coaching staff.
Despite her runner-up finish at Pan Ams in 2015 and finals showing (7th) in the 200 IM at 2016 Olympic Trials, she said she has continued to drop time because of her work with Kreidich.
“I went from 1:58 to 1:53 in the 200 IM (yards) from the beginning of the season to the end last year,” she said. “I’ve really varied and changed up my training under Matt. And not only has the fly developed into a strength, I’m much stronger in my other strokes, including my ‘resting’ stroke – the backstroke.”
At Phillips 66 Nationals this summer, she swam to a top 5 finish in the 200 IM to earn her spot on the National Team and next summer’s Pan Am Team competing in Lima, Peru.
And with the next Olympic Trials happening a couple of months after she completes her NCAA eligibility and earns her degree in sociology and criminology with a minor in psychology, Small said she has grown to believe that she has as good a shot as anyone at making her first Olympic team and living her childhood dream.
Two years ago at Trials, she said she was on the back end of “senioritis” having finished her last year of high school earlier that spring.
Small said she went to Omaha not having trained as much or as well as she should have or wanted to, and despite earning a spot in the 200 IM final, she didn’t swim to her highest abilities.
She knows when she returns to River City in 2020 for a second try, she will be more than prepared to – and know that she can – contend for a spot on the team.
And if anyone tells her she can’t – look out.
“I’m not someone who likes to look to far ahead – I take things day by day, week by week – I can say that I’m not looking at 2020 too much,” she said. “But I do know that everything that has happened for me and the work that I’ve put in over the past few years have made me believe that anything is possible.
“As for not liking being told I can’t do something, I think that goes back to childhood. My Grammy told me one day when she was driving me to practice, I told her I wanted to be a lawyer because I like to argue. Later, I realized it was because I like to debate, and there’s no debating that I feel like I’m in a very good place in my swimming heading into the next couple of years. I’m excited for what’s still to come.”