Summer Schmit dives off the starting blocks. (Photo: Kevin McCarthy)
Leading up to the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, U.S. swimmer Summer Schmit found herself getting back to nature to prepare for a return to competition.
Like many people in her native Minnesota, Schmit swam in lakes when pool access was limited, and she thinks it has helped her improve since the Games were postponed last summer.
“It’s given me a chance to work on some things that I might have thought about working on before,” she said.
Schmit, 17, is a rising Team USA swimmer. She began swimming at the age of 11 with the St. Croix Swim Club team in Stillwater, Minnesota. A year later, her coach introduced her to the world of para swimming.
“It was just amazing,” Schmit recalled. “I loved it. We had such a fun time. I got to meet a ton of people.”
It was so enjoyable that she decided to stick with the sport.
Schmit said she had no prior knowledge of para swimming, let alone para sports. In fact, she had been competing in able-bodied (AB) gymnastics and soccer. She was born with disarticulation of her right wrist, and without a right hand.
“I was able to find a community like me,” she said of para swimming. “In Minnesota, there aren’t many para swimmers. At the time, one of my teammates was a para swimmer, but other than that, there wasn’t anyone else like me.”
She added, “I saw so many people with disabilities exactly like mine, which was really cool to see. I love swimming, so I was really happy to combine two things that I was really happy about.”
Only a few years later, Schmit found herself with a qualifying time for the national team in 2016. Three years later, she competed at the Lima 2019 Parapan American Games, where she won a silver medal in the women’s SM9 200 IM.
“That was a really, really fun meet,” Schmit said. She finished ahead of Natalie Sims in the race. Sims had competed in the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 and had won multiple gold and bronze medals in the 2017 World Championships.
Currently, she qualified for the B Standard National Team. Depending on her finish at the upcoming team trials, she could be set for Tokyo.
“I’m really happy that it’s coming up again,” she said. “It feels like just yesterday that we were doing this (prepping for the Games) for the first time. I’m really looking forward to these next couple meets and trials, and hopefully Tokyo.”
Although the pools were closed from time to time during the pandemic, Schmit said she has put more emphasis on her overall strength. She works her legs, doing lunges, jumps and split squats in her strength sessions.
“I’m really working on transferring skills from strength training into the pool.”
She said she is trying to learn to do crossover turns in individual medley. A crossover turn is when a swimmer reaches over their shoulder to touch the wall, flips and then pushes off into the breaststroke.
Schmit currently does a bucket turn, in which she touches the wall with one hand, does a backflip and pushes off with her feet. A crossover turn is known for being the quicker of the two turns.
“It’s definitely a skill I want to work on,” she said. “I feel like I could be faster if I really get the technique down.”
A year after Tokyo 2020, Schmit will be jumping into college life. She said she has a “long list” of Division III colleges in which she is interested. She has not committed to or visited any, nor has she decided her major.
“There are some colleges that have either current para swimmers or have coaches who know a little about para swimming,” she said. “I’m looking around to find a school that either already knows about para swimming or is willing to learn.”
Regardless, she is focused on maximizing on the skills she has learned over the past year.
“I definitely feel like I’ve gotten stronger, and hopefully faster.”