Pool party

Swimming a way for Grand Valley Splash's Smith to gain 'independence'

Grand Valley Splash swimmer Victoria Smith takes a breath Saturday during her portion of the mixed 100-meter freestyle relay at the Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games.

The Grand Valley Splash’s mixed 100-meter freestyle relay team grins and applauds on the podium after receiving their gold medals for their first-place finish Saturday during the Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games at El Pomar Natatorium. From left to right are Daniel Frazier, Victoria Smith, Alyssa Duerst and Amara Nowak.

Victoria Smith is at home in the water.

The 17-year-old can accomplish anything when she’s swimming. She can set goals and reach them. It’s her happy place.

“Swimming, for me, has always been my release,” Smith said. “It’s where I really get my independence — in the pool. So in the water, it’s my area. I don’t let any of the challenges get to me when I’m in the water. I can overcome any challenge there.”

Smith and her fellow athletes took center stage Saturday during the first day of competition at the Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games on the campus of Colorado Mesa University and at Stocker Stadium.

Smith has TAR Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that results in the absence of radius bones in each arm. A five-year veteran of Special Olympics, Smith said her goals have grown the more she’s worked.

This year, the challenge was a flip turn. Grand Valley Splash coach Deana Guzman, Smith’s mother, said it’s a challenge to get some athletes to just touch the wall and push off, rather than grabbing the edge and hanging on. But Smith is happy to cut through the water, somersaulting near the wall, and kick off the other way.

Smith said she worked on lining herself up, keeping her head straight and tucked, as she simultaneously focused on keeping water out of her nose.

“That doesn’t work all the time,” she said with a laugh.

But Smith kept working, incrementally improving her form, and overcame the fear of hitting her head. Now, as one of the more experienced and accomplished swimmers at the Special Olympics, Smith said she can help her mother coach younger athletes.

“I got to teach some of the athletes flip turns and starts,” Smith said. “It really has been an amazing process.”

Smith, along with Daniel Frazier, Alyssa Lee Duerst and Amara Nowak, narrowly won the 100-meter mixed relay.

“It’s amazing,” Smith said. “It’s amazing to be able to swim and have a great time with all these amazing athletes and make new friends.”

Guzman said coaching involves teaching the basics of swimming, but confidence is key for athletes entering an unfamiliar environment. Swimmer Bailey Turner, 13, said she was initially nervous about swimming in front of a large crowd. But after the race, and winning her first medal, Turner said the experience was worth it.

“I worked really hard,” Turner said, clutching her medal.

Track and field, power lifting, soccer and swimming events continue at 8 a.m. today, running until early in the afternoon. Volunteers can register as early as 7 a.m. at the sport-specific venues.

Guzman said Special Olympics leaves a lasting impact with athletes.

“It’s one of the best things that could ever happen for all of these athletes,” Guzman said. “They don’t usually get to compete at this level, to have that camaraderie, that competition. A lot of them are very competitive and they love it, but they have the friendship that helps build these bonds. This is the most amazing place you’ll ever be in this world. They’re so positive and encouraging to everybody.”


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