Written By Patricia Rouzer

On land, she is an ordinary teen; in the water she is a dolphin. Strawberry blonde, hazel-eyed Lyndsey Smith, 16, is sleek and swift in the pool. The bright, bubbly Westminster High School junior hopes to breaststroke her way to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics–an aspiration her coach believes is within her ability.

“Lyndsey is one of the top five female swimmers in her age group in the nation,” said Jeff Hiestand, her coach at the Green Terror Aquatic Club at McDaniel College. “From the time I began coaching her when she was 11, I knew she had a lot of talent. Everybody did.” Lyndsey took her first step toward Olympic competition last year when she earned the opportunity to swim at the U.S. trials for a berth on the Athens team. Although she didn’t qualify, she is optimistic about her chances for 2008. “It has always been my dream,” she said, “to compete for the red, white and blue.”

Seemingly born for the water, she began swimming when her mother took her to a water baby safety course. Lyndsey was six months old. She’s “been wet ever since.” Born in Ohio, Lyndsey took every opportunity to swim from the time she was a toddler. At eight she was invited to join the local swim club, but the Smith family–father, Mark, an assistant trainer for the Baltimore Ravens; mother, Peggy, a teacher; and her now 13-year-old brother, Mark–were preparing to move to Maryland.

“We couldn’t see the point in having her join the club for a couple of months and then move,” said her mother, Peggy. “I promised her that once we were settled in Maryland, we would find a swim club for her.” When she joined the Green Terrors at the age of eight, her strongest style was backstroke. Later she switched to butterfly. Today she swims all styles, but the breaststroke is her specialty.

Her training schedule is grueling. Most weekday mornings she’s up at 4:30 and in the pool by 5:15. She swims until 7, spends a full day at school and returns to the pool in the afternoon to train for another couple of hours. Weekends are often dedicated to competition. Newly earned driver’s license in hand, Lyndsey now drives herself to the pool. Once active in softball and soccer, she gave them up to concentrate on swimming.

Despite the rigors of training and the early hours, Lyndsey seems undaunted by the discipline and self-restraint required to keep her competitive. Her social life? “I don’t really have one–there just isn’t time.” Boyfriend? “Not currently.”

The drive to excel in the pool comes exclusively from Lyndsey. “I do feel pressure,” she said, “but the pressure comes from me, from wanting to do well.” Her mother agrees. “All we really want is for her to be happy. If swimming makes her happy, that’s great. But if she quit tomorrow, that would be fine, too.”

Lyndsey is remarkably unaffected by her status as an elite athlete. “She is a neat kid–surprisingly easy to deal with,” said Hiestand. She has a cadre of friends and keeps in touch with several of her fellow swimmers via Instant Messaging. Easy going, she is sensitive to the feelings of others. For example, the first time she beat a fellow teammate in competition, “She ran up to the girl in tears and kept saying, ÔI’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to beat you,’” her mother recalled. Lyndsey has clearly gotten over that.

A strong student, Lyndsey was recently named a Scholastic All-American in recognition of both her academic and athletic achievements. She is now looking at colleges–Penn State, the University of Texas, Georgia, and UCLA–are among her current favorites. Because of her athletic skill and her academic excellence, she will be much sought after. What will she study in college? “This week it is graphic design–but that’s this week. It will probably change,” she laughed.

Her parents’ ambitions for their only daughter are straightforward and simple. “We just want her to be happy in her personal and professional life. And if she fulfills her dream to swim in the Olympics, that would be great, too,” said Peggy. “A woman came up to me after one of her meets and said, ÔLyndsey is such a genuinely nice girl–and boy, can she swim.’ That’s what we want her to be–a really fine person, who just happens to be a terrific swimmer.”