It seems as if Rockford athlete Liam Smith is always gaining national attention in the sports world. In 2013, Liam was eclipsing the competition in the archery world. Now, the Rockford sophomore is earning notice with his notable performances in the swimming pool. So outstanding, that he qualified for December’s 2018 U.S. Paralympics Swimming Para National Championships in Tucson, Arizona. When he entered the pool at the Oro Valley Aquatic Center for the championships, he set two of the 14 new American records that were registered at the event while competing on the Emerging team. Liam pulled his way through 3,300 meters of water in preliminary and finals competition, setting records in his division in both the 100-meter and 400-meter freestyle events.
“I knew I had work to do in the pool to match the competition,” Liam explains when asked how he prepared for the prestigious event. “They bettered me in times, so I knew what I had to do and put my nose to the grindstone. I’ve learned that practice works and to trust the process. That your coaches are always there to make you better and there are tough sets for a reason. I’ve learned to just keep going.”
Liam did, indeed do that, putting in 20 hours a week in the pool, logging in about three miles a day. He knew he was shaving his times, and he also knew what times his competition had registered. He was ready for the mid-December championships, and he proved it in the pool.
“I was nervous, but I knew I put the hours and yards in for practice,” explains Liam on how he felt entering the national stage for the championship event. “I felt proud of my performance, I knew I was tired from traveling the day before, but I also knew I was prepared for it, so I went out and did my best.”
Heading into the championships, Liam was actually pretty sure he was on pace to set a new 400-meter freestyle record.
“The 100 was a surprise because I wasn’t focused on that,” he shares. “But it proves how you train in practice is how you will perform.”
It wasn’t only about the times and records, though.
“Above all, he had a very positive experience reconnecting with teammates, forming new friendships, and providing positive encouragement,” says his mother, Laura Fogle.
A product of Riptide, which is the organization he swam under at nationals, Liam is also currently a member of the Rockford High School Swim & Dive Team. He points to coaches Terri Eudy, Kevin Brown, and Nate Long as helping him along on his journey. He says he’s been swimming his “whole life.” It was when he entered the Riptide program in ninth grade that he began swimming competitively and has trained and swam year around ever since.
Before that time, he also took up archery. He was the gold-medal 9m and 18m recurve champion of the World Dwarf Games in 2013 for Team USA. Quite a feat since Liam competed against 16-34 year-old adults in the event. In 2017, Liam was able to claim two gold medals at the World Dwarf Games as a 14-year-old. Also, in 2017, Liam won the Indoor National Scholastic 3-D Championship and placed fourth at the National Field Archery Association’s Indoor Nationals.
Liam’s dad, Aric Smith, attributes his son’s success to his drive to be the best.
“He revels in competition,” shares Aric. “He loves it. He likes to be focused, and he’s very driven to be constantly getting better. Archery is a mental sport, and I think it helped him transition into swimming, which is more physical. I think if your mind is in a competitive mode, your body follows. Liam is able to do that very well. Liam has continually impressed me with all his competitive events, whether it be in archery or swimming. He has a coachable personality.”
Despite being such a competitor, Liam’s friendly demeanor and polite manners are also well-known everywhere he goes.
This is because the young man hands out hand-written thank you notes to the tournament directors, timers, officials and volunteers when he goes to events. Liam says he walks around the event the first few days to learn people’s names. He works on the cards and then hands them out to the volunteers on the final day of competition.
“There is always a look of shock on their faces,” shares Aric. “They don’t expect it. They are working the event because they love it, but it’s also nice to be acknowledged for the hard work. It always comes as a surprise.”
Liam learned the practice from his mom.
“You can’t go wrong with a thank you,” she says.
Aric agrees, “It’s a nice way to leave a meet.”
Liam is already setting records in 2019. He recently competed in the Tropical Challenge in Zeeland, a USA Swimming Meet. It was attended by many talented able-bodied and para swimmers. Liam was able to set two American records in the 1,000-yard freestyle and the 200-yard IM. He broke the records in both the prelims and the finals. So, added to the two in 2018, Liam is holding four American S6 para swimming records in very diverse events.
The new teams for the 2019 season were announced and since he dropped his times in 2018, Liam was named to the National C team. The competition in 2019 will be leading up to the World Championships and the Para Pan American Games. They are big competitions that will qualify swimmers for the 2020 Tokyo Para Olympics.
Liam will continue to train to whittle as much time as he can off his performances.
“In swimming, he has a good feel for what proper form needs to be to maximize his efforts and minimize his times,” concludes Aric. “I get excited every time he puts out a personal best.”
Liam has become a believer in his training. He points to his success in the 1,000-yard freestyle as proof.
“Being someone of a shorter size, I’ve always thought a distance event wouldn’t be possible, and I actually set a record. I think anything is possible, and I can do anything as long as I believe. I hope everyone is inspired with what I’ve been able to do with hard work.”