The Many Faces of Elin Smith; one constant look while swimming is focus

Elin Smith just gets a different look about her as she enters the water.

Warren swim coach Jeff Walters sees it every day.

It’s a little bit different look than the wide-eyed, full-faced smile she gave him as they were high-fiving on the podium after last year’s District 10 Class AAA swimming championships at Penn State Behrend. As a sophomore, she won the district title in the 100-yard backstroke, breaking a 20-year Warren school record in the process.

Smith, who was seeded first in the event, won in 59.83 seconds – the first time she had broken the one-minute mark. In fact, it’s the first time any girl from Warren has broken the one-minute mark.

“She’s a very focused kid,” said Walters. “She sets her sights on something and nothing will get in her way. It was a privilege for me to (put the medal around her neck).”

Smith had been looking to break the school record in the 100 backstroke during the regular season as one of her goals. The record was previously 1:00.21, set in 1993 by Ann Jablonowski.

Looking back, that record was just one of her many motivations.

“Things that motivate me are family, friends, teammates, coaches, goals, records, failures and successes,” said Smith, now a high school junior who hopes to swim in college. Another motivation.

“My family: I love that both my brothers are swimming this year,” said Elin. “Gareth with the YMCA and Simon with the high school. Both my parents have raced open water in the last few years – in Hong Kong and in Warren. That makes me recognize how I can swim competitively throughout my whole life;

“My friends/teammates: I have a lot of friends through swimming. Many of my good friends swim. We have fun, and we support each other. I also like it when friends who don’t swim come to meets to cheer for us;

“My coaches: Our coaches are great. They help keep us focused, push us and support us whether things go well or not.

“I need to improve my starts, and execute quicker turns,” she said. “The coaches help me by pointing out the things I need to work on. When I compete, I focus mostly on my race (and not opponents around her) – making sure I do everything right. I do set goals of beating records. Last year, I got the WAHS 100-yard backstroke record and YMCA 100-meter backstroke record. My goals include improving those and breaking others.”

Her goals are written on the wall above the Warren County YMCA pool; and on her face.

“When she is swimming her best, it is during the times when she displays that focus,” said her mother, Marissa. “Elin works to capitalize on her skills, talents and interests. Competitiveness in sports runs through most of her family. Examples are Nana Lana Creal (running, golf, etc.), Grandpa Pete Smith (football), and Great-Grandfather Tim Creal (golf). While I don’t think anyone was ever pushed to excel in a particular area, doing the best we can has always been an important focus. I think that the desire to do her best drives her.”

Smith started swimming lessons at the YMCA and learned from Bob Hammerbeck (a.k.a. “Mr. Bob”). She loved the start of each lesson when he jumped in the water with his sweatshirt on, then splashed them all with a big “wave,” she said.

Smith joined the Warren County YMCA swim team when she was six years old, and swam there until moving to Hong Kong in 2006. While in Hong Kong, she swam with teams at the South China Athletic Association and then the Ladies Recreation Club (LRC). While at the LRC, she developed a lot through the coaching of John Dempsey, who had also coached the Singapore Olympic Team. She trained twice a day – before school and in the evening, totaling 3 1/2 hours a day, and often 8,000-to-10,000 meters a day. During that time, she competed in Hong Kong Swimming Association’s Age Group Championships and Division 1 and 2 meets; plus, competed in Thailand, Australia, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

Smith returned to Warren in 2010, and swims with the YMCA and WAHS teams during the winter and trains in Bradford during the summer. Since 2010, she has qualified for YMCA states and nationals, Niagara Long Course Championships, and has won the PIAA District 10 Class AAA 100 backstroke.

Walters says it’s no surprise Smith has added focus, training the way she did in Hong Kong; but her love of the water started long before that.

“I swim because, at an early age, I decided I’m best off staying in the water,” she said. “I’m not so good at land-based activities. My mom has pictures of me playing soccer, and for the most part I’m sitting down.”

From the pool, the photographs are a little more intense.

“Interesting,” said Marissa. “Sometimes I see it and it is always when she swims well.”