The water has always been Chase Smith’s comfort zone. Last swim season, though, wasn’t so comfortable.
As a freshman at Indian Creek, Smith was too busy battling cancer to put up much of a fight against the competition he was facing in the pool. Now, he can finally put all of his energy into racing again.
On Dec. 28, Smith was declared cancer-free, meaning that he can go through the rest of his sophomore season without being drained by regular chemotherapy treatments and the various resulting ailments that popped up.
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Instead of the harsh liquid chemo cocktail that he had to ingest, Smith now just takes a single pill each day — a drug called Imatinib that helps target the C-KIT proteins associated with Ewing’s sarcoma, the rare form of bone cancer that he has now successfully fought off twice.
Not surprisingly, Smith has noticed a difference.
“I honestly believe this is the strongest I’ve ever felt in the pool, even before I was diagnosed at first,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been able to mentally lock in this year and not have to focus on the cancer side of things as much as I did last year.”
Smith’s times have reflected that.
At the Johnson County meet in December, he finished the 100-yard backstroke in 56.94 seconds — his second-fastest time since his second cancer diagnosis in August of 2016 and nearly two full seconds faster than his time from last season’s county meet (58.85), when Smith was not only in the middle of chemo but also battling shingles.
His time in the 100 freestyle at that same meet dropped from 51.56 seconds to 49.61, which placed him third in the county this year but was actually faster than the winning time of 49.72 put up by teammate Tucker Brock last winter.
Smith has made sure to remind Brock of that on occasion.
“I’ve been teasing him a little bit, smack talking type of thing,” he said. “It’s just been fun being able to let loose and know that I’m back to pretty highly competing. Even though I’m not exactly where I want to be, we’re getting there.”
“From last year to this year, it’s almost jaw-dropping,” added his father, Braves coach Brad Smith. “You’re even going to look at last year’s shaved and tapered times, and he’s already beating those times now.”
Chase’s improved condition has had a positive impact on the entire Indian Creek program. The two relay teams that he swims on, the 200 medley and 400 freestyle, already have obliterated the school records and are ranked among the top 15 in the state.
Being able to get those two quartets to the state meet next month and actually score points, something no relay team in school history has ever done, might mean more to the sophomore than any individual feats would.
Perhaps that’s because being around his teammates, who have always treated Chase as one of the guys instead of the kid with cancer, has allowed him to have some sense of normalcy this entire time.
“It’s been a dream come true finally having a relatively big team to what we’ve had in past years; I’ve always wanted that big team atmosphere,” Chase said. “And outside of the pool as well, just emotionally, I think I’ve made tighter and closer relationships with everyone that I’ve gone through this treatment with.”
With all of that in the rear-view mirror, Smith and the Braves now can focus on achieving the lofty goals they’ve been setting for themselves in the water.
When asked what those goals are, Chase mentions the team scoring well at the conference, sectional and state meets, preferring to keep his individual aspirations to himself. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any.
Privately, Smith is harboring some pretty high hopes, according to his father — and while there are still some obstacles for him to overcome, those close to Chase have found that betting against him is usually a fool’s errand.
“Before cancer, the goals he had I would sometimes sit there and say, ‘Yeah, right,’ and then he would go knock them out of the park,” Brad Smith said of his son.
“So sometimes he sits there and says something and I’m like, ‘I don’t know,’ but I’ve learned not to second-guess Chase.”
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No longer weighed down by heavier doses of chemotherapy, Indian Creek’s Chase Smith has seen big drops in his times of late. A look at how his recent times compare with those from a year earlier:
Event;Dec. 2016;Dec. 2017