Summer Schmit competes in breaststroke at the 2022 Para Swimming World Championships in Madeira. (Photo: Ralf Kuckuck)
Summer Schmit wanted to come home from her recent trip to the World Para Swimming Championships with one thing: a medal.
The Minnesota native won bronze in the 400-meter freestyle S9 with a time of 4:51.47 — knocking 5.45 seconds off her previous personal best, which she swam last year at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The competition, which was held in June in Madeira, a small Portuguese archipelago off the coast of Morocco, marked Schmit’s first trip to the world championships.
The 400 free was Schmit’s final event of the championships. She finished fourth in the 200-meter individual medley SM9, and took part in the prelims for the 100-meter breaststroke SB9 and 100-meter butterfly S9.
A strong preliminary swim earlier in the day set the tone for the 400 free finals.
“My morning swim was so smooth,” Schmit said.
After touching the wall in the finals, Schmit said a bunch of emotions came to the surface, including relief.
One stood out.
“That’s probably the happiest I’ve been after a race,” she said.
Schmit had the full support of the small Team USA contingent in Madeira. Her teammates were poolside for the 400 free final.
“I could hear my teammates cheering in the stands, which was super cool,” she said.
It’s a time of growth for Schmit, who turns 19 on Aug. 8. She’s about to begin her freshman year at the University of Minnesota, where she intends to swim for the Golden Gophers. Schmit said she’s been ramping up her training, lifting more weights and incorporating more squats and lunges into her dryland workouts.
She swims twice a day every day and also competes with St. Croix Swim Club.
Schmit was born without a right hand, so strength in her legs is important. She said her legs have become “more of an asset” as she’s intensified her training.
“I do love kicking,” she said.
Schmit began swimming along with her siblings when she was about 10. She took to the pool immediately, and she joined St. Croix when she was 11. Within a couple years, she was competing in high-level Para events.
Quickly, making Team USA for the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 became her main goal.
“I thought I had a good shot,” she said, “but after the postponement I didn’t know what would happen.”
That postponement of the Tokyo Games came in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic also led to the closure of indoor pools, but Schmit turned to open lake swims to maintain her training.
The lake workouts were different, Schmit said, but they allowed her to remain in shape.
“When we did the lake swims, we focused less on pace and more on distance and stamina and getting the strokes in,” she said.
Racing at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in Minneapolis, Schmit earned a spot on Team USA and finished among the top-seven in all three of her events. With the sports calendar still condensed due to COVID postponements, there wasn’t much time to rest.
By the time Madeira rolled around, workouts were “back to normal and back to full training,” Schmit said.
Now that Schmit has made it through worlds, college is foremost on her mind. After looking at a number of schools she settled on Minnesota, whose campus is about 30 minutes from her hometown of Stillwater. Her twin sister will be swimming at nearby Macalester College, which has a competitive Div. III program.
“I went on a visit, and I knew I would love swimming and studying there,” Schmit said of Minnesota. She said she has not decided on a major.
Schmit knows she’ll be in for a challenge when she moves to the college level between balancing twice-daily workouts, classes, a job and campus life.
In addition to her transition to college competition, Schmit has her eyes on next year’s World Para Swimming Championships in Manchester, England.
She wants to crack one of the relay teams in Manchester, but she knows there is a lot of work ahead.
“I need some better times and to continue to improve,” Schmit said.