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The start of something extraordinary

Samantha Lucie-Smith enjoys individual challenge

While sport has always figured in the young life of Glasgow-bound Samantha Lucie-Smith, it was always going to be about an individual pursuit.

Her mother had thought it might be tennis. Her father knew she had ability in athletics. But Lucie-Smith took to swimming and is now heading to her first Commonwealth Games.

The Wellington swimmer will contest both the 4x100m and the 4x200m freestyle relays and would like to see her and fellow teammates on the podium.

The 21 year old – who turns 22 on the day of the medal-hopeful 4x200m freestyle relay – will have a busy time in the lead-up to Glasgow, heading to Spain next month for three weeks of challenging training at the famed altitude centre of Sierra-Nevada, perched at 2,300m, before pre-Games competition and a final staging camp.

Gasping for oxygen in the rarefied-airs, the body slowly adapts to increase red blood cell count, haemoglobin and oxygen uptake. The theory is when athletes return to sea-level they benefit by being able to deliver more oxygen to the working muscles and improve performance accordingly.

Added to that physiological change for Lucie-Smith and some of her teammates, will be the challenge of completing university examinations while on the other side of the world. She has two papers to sit while in Spain and has been busy sorting out the procedures to allow for her and others in the team to sit their examinations while away.

“It’s nice to do something not related to swimming,” said Lucie-Smith who is studying part time for a degree in commerce, majoring in management.

“The distraction is helpful and it’s good to have a bit more balance and not just focus on swimming all the time.”

Lucie-Smith first got into the water at age three, with her parents keen that she learned to swim. Her mother was adept at tennis but neither Lucie-Smith nor her brother took to it. She did find some rewards in cross-country running but after picking up her first national title in the pool at age 14, Lucie-Smith turned to swimming.

“I’m a competitive person and I enjoy an individual sport. I am too competitive when it is a team sport because I want to be involved all the time.

“In swimming it is just me in the water. It is up to me to go to training and to perform. If I do not do well then I am the only one to blame. I like that aspect to it.”

There are sacrifices along the way, as she does not enjoy the same social life as her university friends. Ironically her fellow swimmers at the Wellington Regional Performance Centre bind as close friends out of the pool.

“We are all quite close – we call ourselves a family. We hang out together and do some fun games at houses. We don’t have the normal social life of a uni student.”

Lucie-Smith, who competed at the London Olympics, said she was strangely subdued when she qualified for Glasgow in the 4x200m freestyle relay on the first night of the recent trials in Auckland.

“I was happy I had made it for the relay but I was gutted because I did not qualify as an individual.”

She had one more shot in the 100m freestyle but she missed and collectively the four fastest times did not meet the qualifying standard for the relay. They were given another chance when they joined up as a relay in a one-off time trial in the final event.

“It was exciting to have all the crowd just cheering one relay team. It was so nerve-wracking. The team all worked well together to make the time. It was so exciting because we weren’t really expecting it.”

Lucie-Smith is determined to be her best and use the experiences from Glasgow, and the Pan Pacific Championships that follow in August, as building blocks for the future.

“The big goal is the Rio Olympics in 2016. I want to qualify in some individual races. Relays are so much fun but I would have achieved more with individual races. That’s something I want to achieve for Rio.”