August 25, 2013

It was pure coincidence that newly-crowned junior national champion Clara Smiddy was swimming next to world heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko and his older brother Vitali.

The Miami-born Smiddy needed some long course training before leaving for the Aug. 26-30 FINA World Junior Championships in Dubai and made the trip north to the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex for its 50-meter Olympic-size pool.

The Klitschko brothers have a condo on Hollywood Beach and were cross training and started watching Smiddy train. Afterwards, they asked Smiddy and her coach Lou Manganiello of AquaKids Sharks how to improve their stroke.

“She is my idol, I look up to her,” Wladimir Klitschko said. “She just keeps swimming and swimming. How? Why?”

Because Smiddy, 17, a senior home-schooler and member of the South Florida Heat High School swim team, has been focused on her swimming since she was a little girl watching her sisters and brothers compete.

Smiddy is one of eight swimming siblings. Her mom, Julie, helps coach her. Her father, William is a well-respected swim official, starter and eight-time NCAA swimming champion.

“It’s always been swimming for me, it’s just what we all do,” Smiddy said. “I grew up with it as long as I can remember. I started competing when I was 4. I’m not sure I was good. Are you ever good when you’re 4? I knew when I was 11 I had potential.”

Smiddy lived up to that potential when she made her first U.S. junior national team and qualified for worlds after winning the 100-meter backstroke at the USA Swimming Speedo Junior National Swimming Championships earlier this month in Irvine, Calif.

Smiddy won in a lifetime-best 1:00.51, ninth fastest time in the nation this year, third-fastest for 18-and-under swimmers and 26th in the world.

“It was pretty much a perfect swim,” Smiddy said. “I felt good in the water and finished strong.”

For worlds, Smiddy is seeded third in the 100-meter backstroke behind swimmers from Russia and Great Britain. She is the top U.S. seed and medal hopeful. She is seeded fifth (29.10) in the 50-meter backstroke and may also swim a relay.

“It’s something I dreamed about, it was a goal and I was hoping for it, but I didn’t think it would actually happen,” Smiddy said. “I am so excited.”

Smiddy is just happy to be back in the water after nearly two years of not being at full-strength. She underwent two surgeries on her right knee and began to doubt her future in the sport.

“Six months ago I was thinking about quitting swimming, it was really frustrating,” Smiddy said. “All the work paid off. It’s good to know I have been able to come so far.”

With the help of Manganiello and athletic trainer Matt Santos-Vitorino at Westminster Christian, where she trains six days a week in a 6-lane, 25-yard pool, Smiddy went through physical therapy and fitness regimen that helped rekindle her competitive fires.

“Swimming is great rehabilitation for anything,” Manganiello said. “Once she was able to get in she was still able to swim and use one leg for kicking and the buoy until she felt comfortable after the surgery.

“It wasn’t if she would be back, it was when,” Manganiello said. “The desire to succeed and come back off the surgery and get back to her previous level of swimming was her motivation. I think she proved to herself she can do this and she exceeded her expectations.”

Smiddy will be joined by thirteen other Florida Gold Coast swimmers in Dubai when the meet begins on Monday.

Pine Crest’s Tyla Martin will represent Trinidad and Tobago; Metro Aquatics’ Zuhayr Pigot, Wayne Denswil abd Brienne Renfrum of Suriname and St. Brendan; American Heritage alum and University of Southern Cal-bound Dylan Carter, Jonathan Ramskissoon and Joshua Romany will also represent Trinidad and Tobago. Carter will be joined by Davie Nadadores teammates Jordy Groters, a senior at University School from Aruba; Renzo Tjon A Joe of Suriname; Luis Carlos Martinez of Guatemala; Mateo Gonzalez of Mexico and Christian Selby of Barbados. Daniela Veloza of Titan Aquatics will represent Colombia.

Sharon Robb can be reached at