"MY LIFE WAS LITERALLY OUT OF CONTROL.I NEEDED A MIRACLE"
Australian Olympic Swimmer
How it feels to have competed at an Olympic Games . . .
"It's an amazing experience and you take a lot away, being a first-time Olympian. It gave me so much more of an appreciation for the sport."
His boyhood dream to be an elite swimmer . . .
"I won my first gold medal when I was five years old and that was in grade one, so when people asked me what I wanted to do when I was older, I said, look, I want to represent Australia at the Olympic Games. As a young kid coming through I was compared with Ian Thorpe and people like that so at about the age of sixteen, I thought that I was going to make it, but I never did. So for me this is a dream come true, it's been twenty years in the making. It means a lot to me, my friends and family to see how far I have come. I'm extremely grateful and I'm a proud Australian."
How the last two years have unfolded, since competing at the Rio 2016 Olympics . . .
"Well you know I've still been swimming and I am keeping at it, I love what I do. It's been an amazing process, ever since Rio I've gone through a lot of trials and to go through disappointment yet still stay solid in who I am, has been quite a testimony. Given my past, when tough times would come I would run but now I've actually got to embrace it and sit with any uncomfortable feelings. I'm actually really enjoying this in a funny way because I am allowing it to grow me."
His past and the story of where he's coming from . . .
"I was like the next greatest thing when I was young, when I was thirteen I broke Ian Thorpe's 200-metre freestyle record and at fourteen I won the most medals for my age group in history, I've still got them today. But then when I was eighteen I was quite out of control, I felt pretty unsatisfied and pretty unfulfilled, no matter how much I tried to win even though I was the number one in Australia. Four weeks later I was involved in a high-speed police chase, doing 200 kph down the main street on Gold Coast, drink-driving. Long story short, I ended up flipping my car from front to end three times, went through a brick wall and into a house. You can imagine what life was like for me at such a young age, I ended up getting locked up and when I came out of there, all the news crews were there and they asked me what happened. I had no idea what was going on inside of me, I was just a very empty and broken young man looking for fulfilment.
I did whatever I could to find that and I didn't know how to deal with all of the embarrassment, shame and humiliation. I decided that this was a good enough reason to start doing drugs, to escape those feelings. Before I knew it, I was addicted to 'Ice', I remember the first time that I tried it, I was sitting in a room with a fifty-five-year-old man and I was nineteen. He said to me that I was too young for this and that I was two good for it. He said I would lose everything within three months, and in one month, I lost everything. I was sixty-eight kilos, I was a criminal, I destroyed my family and I was in and out of jail. I became very violent and that ended up going on for three years."
The affect that his lifestyle had on those around him and his own sense of identity . . .
"I realised and I am still working on this now, I had a really low self-esteem and self-value as a person. You'd look at me and ask how I could have that but if you take a step back and actually look and listen to what you say over yourself, it's actually not very nice. So I've had to really work on that as I've gone through these last five years and being in high-level sport. I've had to work on growing my value as a person and my family, that was the thing that broke me the most, to see the damage that I did to them. They are a good family and it sucks that when you do drugs, everybody gets affected. It wouldn't be as bad if it was only you that got affected but we lost everyone, my dad almost lost his business and our family home got robbed. My life was literally out of control.
Whether he ever believed that a turn around was possible . . .
"Not really, I believed that I was a failure and I had chased money, power and women. That's what I was chasing but it always left me feeling unsatisfied and no matter how much I tried, I didn't want to be alive anymore. I spent a lot of time win mental health wards and they labelled me, saying that I was too far gone and I can't be helped. That is what my family was told. I was number one in Australia and now you are being told that no one can help me. So for me I really needed a miracle to turn my life around. I really needed hope and towards the end of the road that's what I ended up finding."
What the miracle was that saved him . . .
"I ended up going to a Christian rehab centre, I'd been to rehab seven times so you would think why are you going again but I remember sitting in a room with this guy, who was a big biking-looking guy. I didn't know at the time but he had 'God squad' on the back of his jersey, I didn't know anything about God. I poured out everything that I was going through and he said, 'we can help you bro'. That's all it took, I ended up going to rehab and when I was in there I had a two-year jail sentence hanging over my head. I was going away for two years but two months into the programme my court date came and my brothers in the house asked if they could pray for me. I said that I would take whatever I could get, I didn't know what prayer was or anything.
They prayed and it was real nice, I ended up going to court and my lawyer pulled me aside. He said that we were going for two years jail today, so as I walked into the court room I said, 'God if you are real, I want one more chance at my life, I promise I won't let you down.' So here I am sitting on the left with the prosecutors on the right and they start reading out all of the things that I had done. When he did that I was standing up and I kid you not, this supernatural presence came over me in the court room. The best way to describe it is that it was like liquid love and it just overwhelmed me from my head down to my feet. I've never felt anything like it. I was I was into the needle, into every drug there is and I've never felt anything like it. I started bawling my eyes out and I pretty much could have fallen on my face, I was that sorry for what I had done. Long story short, the court case went on, the judge gave me an absolute serving and he says three months jail for this, four months jail for that and it all perfectly added up to two years. I thought I was gone.
The he says, 'I'm going to suspend you today Mr Smith and I don't want to see you again.' He let me off.
His reaction to that verdict . . .
"I was very stubborn and I still didn't give my life to God after that, I didn't know what was happening to me because I was starting to change. My whole healing and transformation process started. For me it was a relief and normally I would run, I went back to do my recovery and worked on myself, then one night I ended up giving my life to God and that's when my life really started to change. That's when my whole mentality changed, I started to love myself, started to care for people, my mind changed, my eyes changed. Everything changed and I can't deny that in my life."
How that change in him impacted on his swimming career . . .
"People ask me, 'did swimming save you?' To be honest I always that I was going to redeem myself through the pool but God is the one that has redeemed me. He brought me off the street, I was homeless and he pulled me off the street. That's the thing with God, he loves you in the midst of your weakness, your failure and your disappointment. He will never seen you for where you've been or what you've done and I had to try and wrap my head around that. Wow, I've got a loving God up there who cares about me, so now my whole swimming process has been fun, it's been a journey of transformation. I've been called to be on the Australian team but I've also been called to be off it.
I've actually missed the team the last two years and I've been through a lot of trials. But I'm still standing here today and I'm actually experiencing the word of God, it says to have peace that surpasses all understanding. I'm feeling peace through the trials and the storms, I'm starting to realise that God is a good God and he allows tough times to grow you as a person. It's easy to be loving life when you are successful but can you still love yourself and where you are going when you're not, and that's what I've been learning."
Balancing his swimming career with local community involvement . . .
"When I was younger, swimming used to rob me a lot, so now I have learnt to handle the burden better and how to love people and what I do as well. For me, I have had to work out a balance and that's been a hard process. I've done a lot of trial and error and the last five years have been a lot like that. I'm quite successful in what I do in the community and I see people's lives changing all the time. It's quite amazing to watch but you've got to be careful because I do have a job to do for the country. I've got good mentors in my life who are very good at time management so I am constantly trying to grow myself in that area."
The future aims in the pool . . .
"I want to reach my full potential and allow God to fully expand my life. At the end of my life, I want to be like wow and leave a good legacy. The thing that I have been realising is that God's love takes us on journeys that we do not wish to go, by roads that we do not wish to use, to take us to places that we never want to leave. God uses things to free you, change you and transform you. I'm just allowing him to do that in this process. If I do get to a certain level of success, I want to be able to sustain it by having a good family and home life. I'm just allowing this all to grow me, so that when I get to the top, whatever that looks like, I will be built on solid ground and firm in who I am."
Advice to people who are going through what he did as a young athlete . . .
"You are loved so much more than what you think and you are actually not worthless. I don't know where your childhood has been or what's happened in it but just know that there is a higher plan, purpose and power for your life. Sometimes we need to go through the fire to get to where we want to go, if you can keep trying to chose the right road, I promise you it will be worth it."