Giles Smith

McDonogh grad Giles Smith is the top seed in the 100-yard butterfly heading into this week's NCAA swimming championships. (Photo courtesy of Arizona athletics / October 25, 2013)

On the bulletin board in Giles Smith's bedroom in Woodlawn hangs a list with with two sets of goals: one for Smith in the pool, the other for life outside.

"You can't just say you want to be an Olympic swimmer and a gold medalist and not have a plan," Smith said.

So, along with his parents and his "swimming Dad" — club and high school coach Scott Ward — the McDonogh graduate compiled one.

Among those aspirations is an individual NCAA title, which the University of Arizona senior will have an opportunity to achieve competing in the 100-yard freestyle and the 100 butterfly at the upcoming national championships, which begin Thursday in Austin, Texas.

Smith has already won two NCAA titles, one last year in the 400 medley relay, and one in the 200 medley relay in 2012, when his team broke an American record. This year represents his best shot at an individual victory, as he enters the meet ranked No. 1 in the 100 fly.

Smith's ascent hasn't come without challenges, but as he finishes college, he's enjoying the payoff from a swimming career that began before his first birthday.

'A swim geek'

Smith started swimming at nine months old at a "Mommy and Me" class. His mother, Marcia, had a back injury, so his father, Harold, got in the pool with all the other moms.

Neither of his parents had experience swimming, but they could tell from an early age that their son enjoyed the water

"Even when he had his first bath, he sat and smiled and laughed," Marcia Smith said.

Smith credits a lot of his success to the role his parents have played.

"Whether that be buy an expensive swimsuit or driving me to 5 a.m. practice, they wanted me to have no excuses from a lack of opportunity," Smith said. "So they really sacrificed a lot for me."

At 10, Smith headed into the state championships ranked No. 1 in his age group in the 50 freestyle. The top two swimmers in that event would advance to the zone championships.

Smith finished third.

"I just went home and cried and cried," he said. "I didn't even go to school the next Monday because I was so upset and distraught. But it made me want to be better. It made me want to try hard."

Smith and his parents went in search for a new swim club and found the Eagle Swim Team, founded by Ward, who also coaches at McDonogh.

More than a decade later, Ward still remembers his first meeting with the Smiths.

"I was just so impressed with how focused [Smith] was on his goals," Ward said. "I found a swimmer that was as much of a swim geek as I was."

Smith memorized the rule book and read swimming magazines and books. One day, Ward walked out of his office holding the book "Gold in the Water" — about a group of Olympic swimmers training in California.

"He saw me leaving with it and said, 'Coach I am reading that book. Do you like it?'" Ward remembers. "It was a really good book, but not something that I think an 11-year-old boy would want to read."