Golden girl

Reporter KRISTEN ALEBAKIS learns more about swimming champion Tara Smith.

FOR Tara Smith swimming is a chance to escape from the world’s distractions.

It drowns out the noise.

Stroke by stroke, kick by kick Tara is making strides in one of Australia’s most popular Olympic sports.

Described by her coach Michele Berryman-Cooper as a competitive swimmer, Tara is always hungry to be the best she can be.

Tara just returned home after winning gold at the Asia Pacific Special Olympic games.

Tara won the 100-metre freestyle event.

The 25-year-old also added a silver medal in the freestyle relay and a bronze in the 100-metre breast stroke.

It was the first time a Bendigo swimmer had won gold at the Asia Pacific games.

Tara’s mother Chris said when she had won the gold medal she was so excited.  

“She just loves competing,” she said.

“She was waving her hands in the air.

“But she would have celebrated even if she came last.”

Chris said Tara, born with Downs Syndrome, had been in the water since she was just six weeks old.

She said Tara took up swimming classes when she was a young girl.

“Tara did rhythmic gymnastics for a few years and then when she was 15 she moved to the swimming squad for the special Olympics,” Chris said.

“She has been competitively swimming ever since.”

Chris said since diving into the pool she hadn’t looked back.

In 2006, Tara represented Australia at the World Down Syndrome Swimming Games in Ireland.

She won a bronze medal.

In 2011 she also went to the Australian Down Syndrome national titles, the same year she was diagnosed with epilepsy.

Bendigo Special Olympics head coach Michele Berryman-Cooper said she shares a special bond with Tara, who she affectionately nicknamed ‘bird’.

“I call her bird because she would always talk a lot when we first met,” she said.

Michele said Tara had learned to become more independent thanks to swimming.

“Tara has great comradeship with the rest of the team,” she said.

“I think the friendship between the rest of the swimmers is just as important as the training.

 “She has become more independent and safe, especially when there is a competition on outside of Bendigo."

Michele said Tara was now training with the boys.

“The boys push her,” she said.

“Tara is always up for a challenge so it was decided she would train with the boys."

Michele said it was an honour to work with Tara.

“Tara is just awesome,” she said.

“She is our female champion and the people of Bendigo should be proud of what she has been able to achieve.”

Chris said she too was also proud of what her daughter had been able to achieve. 

“I am proud that someone so young and so small has learnt the swimming technique so correctly,” she said.  

Chris, a special education teacher, said her family had given Tara every opportunity to compete and travel.

When she is not in the pool, Tara works at Radius Disability Services, an organisation that provides support services to people who live with a disability.

Chris said Tara had learned to live with the disability.

“Tara loves life and has an easy and bubbly personality,” she said. 

“She can relate to people really well and despite her low communication she still gets understood." 

Tara is continuing to train each week.

Chris said there isn’t an event she is preparing for, she just swims because it is fun. 

kristen.alebakis@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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