She trained in an indoor pool for a couple of hours one summer morning. She lounged around for three hours with friends near a country club’s outdoor pool later in the afternoon, basking in the sun and talking about everything under it.
She had worked, the previous day, as a lifeguard at another pool.
Water, water, water. Where there’s water this summer, there’s also Abby Smith.
The Highland Park High School senior-to-be hit the wet stuff in yet another pool at the Pleasant Prairie RecPlex in Wisconsin last month. Smith was a finals entrant in the 200-meter butterfly event at the Illinois Swimming Long Course Senior Championships (yes, oddly, an Illinois swimming meet held in another state).
Her time of 2:19.99 tied another racer for runner-up honors.
“Shocked … I was shocked, shocked at my time,” recalls Smith, who, in a preliminary heat in the morning of that same day, July 15, clocked a 2:23. “I got out of the pool, sat on the deck and hugged my legs. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Why I didn’t use one of the chairs nearby, I couldn’t tell you. I was near my [Highland Park Aquatics Club] coaches, too, as I sat there.
“They told me, ‘You need to get up and do your cool-down [laps].’ ”
Smith’s time — only four-tenths of a second slower than the junior nationals cut in the event — did not stun HPAC head coach Jory Blauer. He was, after all, the coach who told Smith months earlier that a 2:19 was “doable,” back when Smith’s best time in the 200 fly was closer to a 2:30 than it was to a 2:20. But it thrilled him because Smith wasn’t even fully rested for the meet.
“I was happy, put it that way,” Blauer says. “Quite happy. Surprised? A little, perhaps, but only because Abby wasn’t unloaded [fully tapered] before the start of the meet. What an awesome performance.”
Smith has one more shot this summer to zip to a junior nationals cut or faster in the 200 fly. She’ll take it, as a fully tapered competitor, at USA Swimming’s Futures Championships in Rochester, Minnesota, Aug. 3-5. Earning such an achievement would make her the first female HPAC member to do so. In any event.
“This year, this summer, something clicked for me,” says Smith, who tied for 24th place in the 100-yard butterfly (57.43) and touched 34th in the 500 freestyle (5:14.7) at the Illinois High School Association state swimming and diving meet last fall. “I’ve been lifting weights — squats, shoulder work, working on my core, everything basically. Never before had I lifted weights while training as a swimmer. And my endurance, that has improved, along with my strength.”
All true, Blauer believes. But the coach also believes endurance and strength are tied for second behind the top reason Abby Smith is a vastly improved swimmer these days.
Reason No. 1: mental makeup.
“Abby,” Blauer insists, “believes she can go faster. She started setting lofty goals 18 months ago. Swimming is 90 percent mental, with the other 10 percent covering the grueling, physical aspects. Many swimmers, even some of the talented ones, fall short of reaching their potential because they’re not mentally strong.
“I’m excited for Abby, mainly because her strong belief in herself gives her an extra edge at meets.”
Smith — 11th in the 100 meter fly (1:04.45) at last month’s Illinois Senior Long Course Championships in Pleasant Prairie — holds five HPHS records (100 fly, 500 free, 200 free, 200 IM and 100 backstroke) and swam a leg on each of the Giants’ record-setting relays. Look for Smith to go for the program mark in the 100 free this fall; she bettered the current program mark by a second in an offseason meet. The school record in the 50 free?
That might not be safe, either, with Smith having one more season of eligibility.
“I’m looking forward to coaching her,” says new HPHS girls swimming coach Tim Sirois, the school’s varsity boys swimming coach who succeeded AJ Block (now guiding girls varsity swimmers at Vernon Hills HS). “Abby is a very motivated young lady, a powerful kid with a very efficient butterfly stroke. I’ve had her in class [AP statistics], where she thinks clearly, logically, and knows when to get down to business in the classroom. She also knows when to get down to business in the pool.
“Abby,” he adds, “is in a very good frame of mind.”
Sirois, like Blauer, like everybody who knows Smith, appreciates Smith’s fun-loving ways out of the water. Never a nervous swimmer, even before a big race, Smith often considers the area behind a pool’s start blocks an ideal space to dance. She doesn’t cut a rug; she cuts a patch of tiles, while many of her peers, unsmiling, pace and loosen their arms and look down as they visualize the start of the race, their turns, their strategies.
“It helps, having a personality like Abby’s, especially in an intense sport like swimming,” Blauer says. “I like saying, to my swimmers, in certain situations, ‘That’s icing on the cake.’ Abby, one day, says to me, ‘Technically, you don’t ice a cake; you frost it.’ She was serious, dead serious, but she wanted to have fun with me, too. She was wrong, so wrong, and I will continue to say ‘icing.’ But there’s nothing wrong with her jovial, in-your-face, fun demeanor. I love it, love being around her, love knowing and working with a swimmer who’s as quick-witted as Abby is.”
Smith has watched at least 10 movies based on Marvel Comics characters this summer. Ask her about Black Panther, and she’ll tell you the best part of the flick is the complexity of the protagonist’s character.
“The movie has a lot of cool technology, too,” says Smith, who, as a swimming recruit, has narrowed her list of colleges down to Emory, Lehigh, Pomona and Washington (Missouri) University. “I started getting into movies like that last year. I’m not sure why I like the movies, but I think they’re movies I should like.”
Coming to a pool near you in the near future: more swims by Smith.