Gail and Ralph Schmitt didn’t ever plan too far ahead.
Allison Schmitt finishes a lab during a practice at the Gabrielsen Natatorium on March 15 in Athens.
Especially on a day the family was at a local pool right before their daughter, Allison, joined her first swim team.
“Hey dad, watch me swim across the pool,” a 9-year-old Allison said to Ralph.
Allison slowly flailed her way across the 20-foot wide, 3-foot deep pool before finally reaching the other side.
“She swam across and I looked at my wife and said, ‘Wow, we don’t have to worry about her being a swimmer,’ “ Ralph said.
Then, two months later, Allison was competing in her first swim meet. Ralph arrived at the meet, fresh off of work and running slightly late, to be greeted by his wife.
“She’s in the water now,” Gail told Ralph.
He scanned the eight lanes for his daughter, expecting to see the same swimming form he had seen just two months before. He looked for the unnecessary build-up of white water produced by an ill-equipped, inexperienced swimmer.
He didn’t see any of that.
He instead saw two months worth of swim practice paying off to bring Allison’s skill level up to par.
It was the springboard for Allison’s eventual collegiate, national and international swimming accolades and recognition.
“Yeah, that line has come back to bite me a few times,” Ralph said with a laugh.
When Allison steps onto the swimming block, she’s likely smiling.
When she is with her teammates and coaches, in any setting, she’s likely trying to hold the ear of anyone who will listen to one of her goofy, corny knock-knock jokes.
And when she is in the water, it’s about that race, right then.
“When she’s smiling up there, she’s ready to go. Some coaches get a little nervous (about that),” Georgia coach Jack Bauerle said. “That’s the most important thing — she just knows how to relax and have confidence in herself. She wants to have fun.”
Allison makes her return today to the NCAA championships for the first time in two years. The Georgia senior opted to train for the London Olympic games last season, where she was the winner of five medals, and returned this season to qualify for the 100-, 200- and 500-yard freestyle races at NCAAs.
“She’s focused on one goal, and that’s winning,” teammate and fellow senior Megan Romano said. “That’s the main reason she came back here is to win as a team. No matter what happens, no matter how she does individually, I think just as long as we get that team championship, she’ll be happy.”
The Canton, Mich., native has set and broken records in the pool, traveled the country and world. She has collected 14 medals at international competitions, won five individual NCAA titles, and is on track to graduate from Georgia in May with a degree in psychology and a minor in child and family development.
But in all she’s accomplished, individually and in a team setting, there’s a blank space on her lengthy résumé glaring back at her.
Georgia has not won a national championship since 2005. It is only right that her last collegiate meet is her final chance to grab onto the one trophy that has eluded her and the Lady Bulldogs.
“She’s experienced everything on the international level. She wants to experience a national championship, too,” Bauerle said. “The other seniors won four straight SECs, so she feels like she has something else to get.”
So Allison is not looking too far ahead.
She’ll stay relaxed on her block in each of her races this weekend, focused on just this weekend.
“I think that’s one of the biggest obstacles swimmers have is being too tense for meets, and getting worked up about it,” Allison said. “I think just keeping loose and staying excited and doing what you do best is what helps for success.”
Gail, Ralph and their five children have taken an annual trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks for years, though it’s gotten more difficult to schedule as Allison and her siblings have gotten older.
Relays in the rented house’s pool, board games and card games, long days on the beach, family dinners.
It was a competitive and crowded environment. But it was an environment responsible for so many of Allison’s traits — her light-hearted disposition, sense of humor — and passions — working with children, a will to win.
“I definitely credit my parents for raising us like that and having everyone there and always joking around with each other. It was always a great family adventure, no matter what we were doing or where we were,” Allison said. “We never really had down time.”
Hopping from sporting event to sporting event as their children grew up, Gail and Ralph valued a sense of family that would become ingrained in their children. Appreciate the now.
“When you look ahead, you put pressure on the kids,” Ralph said. “So, we just took things as they were coming.”
And now things are moving even quicker, life events unfolding even faster.
Post-graduation plans. The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic games.
But Gail and Ralph will keep the same philosophy they always have.
“I never really looked beyond what we were doing at any moment,” Gail said. “I just kind of enjoyed it along the way.”
There are Olympic gold medals to prove that method is effective.