Tori Smith wins gold medal in final race at Special Olympics USA Games
By DALE SHRULL
Tori Smith was unable to contain her emotions and she gushed with pure joy and happiness.
The recent Central High School graduate had just won a gold medal at the Special Olympics USA Games in the 100-meter freestyle swimming competition when she was interviewed by an ESPN reporter right after the race on July 4.
“No matter what your disability is, you can compete and if you train as hard as you have, you can compete and you can win gold just like I did,” she said in the interview in Tacoma, Washington.
Smith’s joyous reaction to winning gold poured out of her during the interview as her voice cracked at times — especially when she talked about her family and her mom, Deana Guzman.
“It means so much, I would not be anywhere without my family, without their support, without their love,” she said as tears started to fall. “Mom, I love you… I love you so much and thank you for being my mom, thank you for being my mom, I love you so much.”
Several days later and after too many 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls, Smith let her body rest. But the drama, emotion, joy and jubilation of her time at the USA Games were still evident as she shared her feelings.
“It’s been crazy, just go, go, go, go. It’s been nonstop, absolute chaos but it’s been so much fun,” she said by phone.
Not only did Smith win gold in her final race of the Games, but she also won a silver in a relay and two bronze medals in the 100 backstroke and 100 individual medley.
As the only Special Olympic athlete from the Colorado’s Western Slope competing in the USA Games, Smith didn’t go to Washington just for the memories. She went there to win gold.
So when her best event arrived, she was ready.
“I was so pumped, and was so prepared. I told myself, I’m ready, I’m going for gold, I’m going to win gold,” she said, then paused. Her voice turned from excitement to satisfaction. “And now it’s mine.”
Coming into the Games, Smith knew she had a chance at a gold medal.
“I was so focused, I had prepared for this race all my life,” she said. “I had a feeling that this was my race.
“I knew it was the last race, so I had to give it my all and leave it all out there.”
Asked to sum up her feelings about winning gold, the soon-to-be communications major at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs even borrowed a word that’s not in the dictionary.
“It was one of those surreal moments that was ‘oh my gosh, like, oh my gosh, we got gold,’ it was so amazing,” she said.
The huge stage of the USA Games was intimidating but Smith handled it well.
“I was nervous. This is a much bigger stage. This is nationals. There’s cameras here,” she said with a laugh. “It’s bigger and grander than I ever thought it would be. I knew I had to swim my hardest but I was also calm, I knew my skills and knew what I had to do.”
Guzman said she could see her daughter was ultra-focused for her final race.
“I knew she was so focused and so determined that she wasn’t going to let anything stop her,” she said.
Watching Tori get four medals and have the time of her life brought Mom pure joy as well.
“I have basically been jittery nervous the whole time. I wanted to be that strong person for my daughter and tell her ‘You got this, you can do it, go get the gold,’ to being on this incredible joyful high watching her win that gold medal,” she said.
Tori was diagnosed with Tar Syndrome at birth, which affected her bones, and her arms are shorter than normal, her legs were dislocated and she had a bleeding disorder. Over the years, she has undergone more than 20 surgeries and various procedures on different parts of her body.
Mom summed up her daughter’s performance the same way she talks about Tori even when she’s not competing.
“She’s so amazing.”
Winning gold in her final race at the USA Games doesn’t mean that was the final race ever for Smith.
“I think this is just the beginning for me, I might try paralympics and I might keep doing Special Olympics, I’m just so excited for the next chapter of my life,” she said.
It’s been quite a year for Tori, which includes being selected the Colorado Female Special Olympics Athlete of the Year earlier this year.
Tori always finds ways to be an advocate for Special Olympics and after competing on the national stage, she is even more inspired by all the athletes she saw and competed with.
“They do inspire me, they’re trying their best, swimming, playing, competing, it’s so amazing to watch them compete,” she said. “Without Special Olympics, they would be pushed aside. It brings so much awareness about people with intellectual and physical disabilities.
“They’re all so amazing.”