By Debbie Adams
Jaylen Smith, 9, of Blue Ridge recently competed in the 2022 ISCA East Coast Open Water Festival at Smith Mountain Lake. The event was held the weekend of September 24 and 25. Jaylen competed in the one-mile open swim event individually, not as part of a swim team. This was her first ever open swim and she completed the race in under an hour.
According to her mother, Kristen Rawlings Smith, Jaylen has been swimming since the fall of 2019.
“She ended up missing a portion of that season due to having her tonsils out, getting the flu, and then Covid hit and shut everything down. She has been swimming competitively since then, but she really got serious about swimming during the summer of 2021 because it was the first time that she’d been able to swim consistently She’s been interested in open water swim since she first learned about it during the Summer Olympics last year.
“I had looked into open water swims around the area, but many have age limits and don’t allow kids her age to swim. When I saw this event and saw the minimum age was 7, she immediately wanted to participate.
“There was a half-mile swim option available, but Jaylen wanted to commit to the one-mile swim. She was one of only two 9-year-old and under swimmers that swam the one-mile open swim.
“She was excited but never nervous or anxious, even though all of us on shore were a little uneasy seeing her swim out of our sight, even with binoculars.
“She completed the swim in 45:08 and we’re so proud of her,” Smith said. “Jaylen said it was harder than she expected (she swims at least a mile at every practice, which is an hour and 15 minutes long). Because of the current and waves, you can’t stop, because you can’t put your feet down/touch, and you can’t see the lines (T’s) like in a pool. Watching for the buoys is more challenging because they’re so far away from you as you’re swimming towards them.”
Smith says that neither she, nor her husband Eric, competed in swimming—“Jaylen’s a first generation swimmer.”
“She is currently swimming for the Y,” Smith said. “She’s on the VABR (Virginia Blue Ridge) Riptides team. She originally swam for Star City Aquatics Team (SCAT) which is year-round and the Vinton Area Swim Team (VAST) which is summer swim only through the RVAA (Roanoke Valley Aquatic Association) under Coach Bobby Braaten, through the Lancerlot.”
When that program closed in August 2021, Jaylen moved to the Gators with Coach Braaten; however, he was not her coach there. Last summer he coached summer swim for the RVAA at Limestone Park in Buchanan and they drove all the way there to swim with him. When he switched to coaching at the YMCA, they followed him there for year-round swim.
“We primarily go to the Botetourt Y, but we do try to follow Bobby as much as possible and often times switch between the Kirk and Botetourt Y’s to have him as Jaylen’s coach,” Smith said. “The Salem, Kirk, and Botetourt Y are all part of the VABR Riptides, and you can go between all three facilities, while under the same team.”
There were several activities during the two-day event—a 5K paddleboard race, a 5K swim race, a Splash and Dash race, a half-mile open swim race, and the one-mile open swim. The one-mile course that Jaylen swam consisted of a mile loop marked with large colored buoys. The water temperature was expected to be between 78 and 80 degrees during the race with a water depth of 0 to 60 feet. There were safety boats monitoring the course with lifeguards on location and the Smith Mountain Lake Rescue Squad on site.
Jaylen is the daughter of Kristen and Eric Smith. Kristen is the Children’s Director at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church in Vinton.