Overcoming Obstacles: Q&A with Giles Smith

Photo Courtesy: Flickr

By Xonzy Gaddis, Swimming World College Intern.

Former Arizona Wildcat, Pan American Games champion (2015:100-meter butterfly) and multiple time champion of the Winter Nationals in the 100-yard butterfly, Giles Smith just finished off the 2018 swim year strong. He swept the 100-yard butterfly with an epic 52.94 – about four-tenths off his prelims time.

Smith rose through the ranks in his younger years, breaking national records in high school. Now, Smith continues to be a great inspiration to young swimmers around the country when it comes to overcoming adversity. He is an advocate for the sport, attending several swim camps across the nation to passionately teach swimmers about the benefits of the sport and how it can positively impact their lives in numerous ways.

Swimming World caught up with Smith and delved into his continuing encouragement to promote multiculturalism in the sport as well as providing advice on facing the sport during good and bad times.

Swimming World: What were some of the challenges you faced growing up as a swimmer of color, and what advice would you give to those who experience exclusion in the sport?


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Giles Smith: A challenge I faced as a young swimmer of color was that I had to search for role models that looked like me. When I was a young child was before Maritza Correia McClendon made the U.S. Olympic Team in 2004, and when Cullen Jones made the team and won gold in 2008. My parents and I often struggled to find role models. But after digging deeper into the sport, there were obviously other examples of great African-American swimmers of color. To name a few of these legends, Michael Norment, Sabir Muhammad and many others laid the groundwork for future generations of swimmers from diverse backgrounds.

I think for today’s generations of swimmers of color, it is much easier with the success of Simone Manuel, Lia Neal and many others who continue to succeed greatly in the pool.

SW: Throughout your swimming career, what is the biggest obstacle you faced? How did you overcome these obstacles, and what advice would you give to those going through similar situations?


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Smith: The biggest obstacle that I have faced in the pool is overcoming adversity. In this sport, you will have many ups and downs that can shake your confidence. A way to overcome setbacks is to take some time and reflect on what went well and what did not during a particular season.

Also, get the help of others who care about you, whether that be with a coach, parent or even another teammate and work on a way that helps get you back on track.


Photo Courtesy: Gulf Swimming Athlete Reps

SW: What do you believe was your best moment in your swimming career, and how do you use that moment to motivate you in the present?

Smith: The best moment in my swimming career has been the opportunity to share my passion of swimming with others through camps, clinics and working with young swimmers. One of the most rewarding things for me has been seeing a young athlete who believes in themselves and is taking the steps to become better to reach his or her individual goals in swimming.

SW: What are your future plans for your swimming career? Any advice on setting big goals and formulating plans for young swimmers?


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Smith: As far as my future plans for swimming, I am just going to focus on one season at a time. This season is off to a good start with a lot of good training, so I am definitely preparing to race a little more than I have in a few years.

The best advice I could give to young swimmers would be to set big goals that challenge you, and pursue them without letting other limitations affect what you are trying to accomplish.

All interviews are conducted by the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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Tania R Salinas
5 years ago

Giles came to our YMCA in Yonkers NY and talked to our kids! He was wonderful

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