Daniel Smith speaks. The hint of his British accent catches your ear. It is poetic and gentlemanly. Girls and women don’t instinctively curtsy in Smith’s presence, but the possibility always exists.
“That accent, his smile … they’re both irresistible,” Lake Forest High School swimming coach Cindy Dell says. “Daniel is kind, so kind, and incredibly humble.”
Born in England and a resident of Lake Forest for 10 years, Smith completed a commendable, four-year varsity swimming career at the state meet at New Trier High School in late February. He turned into somebody other than a disarmingly polite teenager whenever he hit the water for the Scouts. Smith competed. Hard. Smith zipped, lap after lap after lap—in grueling practices, at prestigious meets.
“Daniel has a sweet demeanor,” Dell adds. “Inside? He’s competitive, fiercely competitive. It’s a wonderful combination. He’s the kind of kid a coach—any coach—would want to coach, would love to coach.”
Smith ranked among the top 12 in the state in each of the last three seasons. He touched fifth in the 100-yard backstroke at the 2014 and 2015 state meets. He clocked a stirring time of 50.66 in the event at the ’14 meet. As a sophomore, when the Scouts finished third for their fourth state trophy in program history, Smith swam on a second-place relay (400 freestyle) and a third-place relay (200 medley). He climbed a starting block a combined seven times in four years to receive a state medal.
“Swimming has done so much for me,” Smith says. “I look at my high school career in the sport as a growing stage in my life. It taught me so much. Cindy taught me so much. Cindy has helped me greatly, in swimming and in other areas. She teaches her swimmers to be good swimmers, good human beings. I learned from her how to be the best teammate and the best sportsman.”
At a meet on December 13, on the pool deck at Barrington High School, Smith learned he had been accepted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology via email. It was his first choice, ahead of the University of Cambridge in England, the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world. He shared the super news with Dell. He then prepared for another race. An excited student one minute, a focused athlete the next.
The plan for Smith is to study computer science and swim for the MIT Engineers, coached by Dawn Dill. A Dill will inherit a Smith from a Dell. Bo Mattix is MIT’s top backstroker, a junior and chemical engineering major from La Canada, California. He owns the school record in the 100 backstroke (48.35), set at last year’s NCAA Division III Championships. Mattix and Smith will be teammates for one season, a couple of backstrokers pulling for each other and pulling to fast times.
Dell stands poolside at New Trier High School, inches from an outside lane. She is proud and thrilled and sad at the 2015 state meet. Smith had raced his final race as a Scout, about 10 minutes earlier. The last thing she wants to think about is her next team, minus Daniel Smith. The coach looks back at the past four seasons. Her sadness fades.
“Daniel was far more important to the team than the points he earned for us,” Dell says. “He led the team as a swimmer and as a person. He was such a motivator, such a mentor, to so many boys. The things Daniel did in practice, the way he trained … he had a lot to do with creating the ideal training environment for the entire team.”
Smith and Lake Forest High School senior Symen Ooms were teammates for three seasons. Ooms admired Smith, the racer, and Smith, the worker, each season.
“Daniel,” Ooms says, “has a phenomenal work ethic. He is one of the best workhorses I have ever seen. Great teammate, great relay teammate, definitely a great sportsman. Fun to be around, too.
“He also is,” Ooms continues, “the epitome of somebody who is British, all proper and well-mannered.”
– By Bill McLean // Photography by Joel Lerner