15-year-old para-swimmer Gaby Smith on her way to Paris


Sleep, swim, go to school, eat and repeat. That’s the reality of young and promising para-swimmer Gaby Smith.

At just 15, she is competing on the world stage, with her sights set on being on the biggest of them all in Paris in two years.

Smith has a half palm and no fingers on his left hand.

“I was born with it, the scientific word is symbrachydactyly, that’s quite a long word,” Smith laughed.

“I always got used to it being there, being born with it, it’s just a part of me.”

Her mother, Marcia, says the rare congenital hand condition never bothered Gaby.

“Monkey bars when she was little but then she found a way,” Marcia said.

“About three months we took her to the local pool and she loved it from the start, it was always her thing.”

Fifteen years later, she holds four New Zealand records.

The 15-year-old also recently won bronze at the World Para Swimming Series in the United States, earning her a spot at the Para World Championships in Portugal next month.

“There are 700 swimmers or something crazy so it’s going to be huge,” she said.

“So learning from everyone around me, what other people are doing and how they deal with stress and how they run is something I can learn from, maybe make a final and a medal if I have the chance.

Wharenui Swim Club coach Carl Gordon said: “It won’t be long before the big show starts to happen.”

“She’s been working hard and now starting to get results and the world championships are pretty big, but the goal is Paris and trying to make the Paralympics and that kind of stuff, but it’s a realistic goal for her knowing the work she is doing and the progress she is making.”

With up to 10 sessions per week, that’s a lot for an 11th grader to handle.

Rangi Ruru athletic director Mandy Anderson said juggling high school and elite sport is a struggle.

“Our goal is to help them be the best they can be as a person, not to mention sports, it’s about teaching those life skills how to prioritize, how to manage time, how to have open conversations so they don’t burn out and sport is a huge part of who they are, but it’s not just who they are,” Anderson said.

Gaby has previously faced Paralympians Dame Sophie Pascoe and Tupou Neiufi.

“I competed against Tupou and Sophie at the open last year, certainly scary at first, but they’re both great people,” she said.

Now she wants to start beating them.


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