Harold and Marcia Smith knew Giles loved the water from the day they gave him his first bath. At the age of 3 they enrolled him in a summer swim program led by Marvin Thorpe from Woodlawn Maryland. Thorpe taught classes in his backyard swimming pool and encouraged the Smith’s to keep Giles in swimming throughout the year. They did – and the rest is history.
Giles won a Gold medal in the 100m fly and a Silver medal in the 400m medley relay at the 2015 Pan American Games. He also won a national title in the 100y fly at the 2014 AT&T Winter National Championships and he is a three-time NCAA Championship medalist for the University of Arizona.
How to find the right team and coach
Giles swam with several teams and coaches until settling with Coach Scott Ward of the Eagles
Swim Club and McDonogh School swim team. The Smith family evaluated teams based on their convenience (distance from school and home) the community, and the training opportunities. For one year, Giles swam for the Barracudas, a team run by the Catonsville Maryland YMCA. The YMCA was minutes from Giles’ school. The Barracudas is a diverse team with swimmers from all walks of life. The Smith’s enjoyed the community feel and the relationships they built with other families, additionally their son had friends on the team. The Barracudas gave Giles a good foundation and introduction to the world of competitive swimming.
Being the only Black kid
Swimming is a majority White sport and Giles was frequently the “only one” on his team. When joining a new team the Smith family received mixed reactions, at times being asked “why did you come here?” and at other teams receiving a warm welcome for their son who was well known in the state for breaking records – including several held by a young Michael Phelps in the butterfly. In either case, Harold and Marcia prioritized supporting Giles and the swim team. Harold served as meet manager and he and his wife stayed “in the thick of things” resulting in warm relationships.
Diversity swim meets and Black role models
To give Giles a chance to see Black swimmers, the Smith’s took him to diversity meets like the Black History Invitational Swim Meet in Washington DC and the National Black Heritage Championship Swim Meet in Cary NC. As a young swimmer, Giles didn’t have many Black role models in the sport of swimming, so he looked up to athletes like Kobe Bryant. It was during a diversity swim meet that Giles first saw Mujahid El-Amin swim the butterfly; a life changing experience which inspired him to become an elite swimmer.
The meets were also a chance for the Smith’s to meet other parents like themselves and talk about the unique experience of being a swim parent for a Black child.
The right training schedule
Eventually, the Smith’s moved their son to the Eagle Swim Team in 5th grade so that he could train more than 3 days a week. Giles’ father felt that “to be a successful swimmer you need to have a Monday through Saturday training schedule. Monday, Wednesday, Friday was good in the beginning but as Giles got older 3 days a week just didn’t cut it.” The Eagles trained in the McDonogh school where Giles caught Coach Ward’s eye. When Ward learned Giles’ grades were as stellar as his swimming he was asked to apply. Giles enrolled in the McDonogh School in the 7th grade and stayed through high school graduation. While Giles was the only Black swimmer for the Eagles initially, the team has grown more diverse over the years. He still trains with his old team during holiday breaks and maintains close contact with Coach Ward.
Black Kids Swim is cheering for Giles Smith!
Giles is a member of the U.S. National Swim Team where it is his full time job to swim. He is preparing for the 2016 Olympic trials which will be held in June 26 – July 3 in Omaha Nebraska. He hopes to qualify to swim the 100 butterfly in Rio.