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Olympic medalist Regan Smith credits sports psychologist with taking her swimming to the ‘next level’

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Regan Smith will compete in her second Summer Olympics next month with a new mindset, one that will hopefully help the 22-year-old American swimmer earn her first Olympic gold medal. 

Smith’s journey to Paris saw her medal in three individual events at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Indianapolis last month. She broke the world record in the women’s 100-meter backstroke, reclaiming the title she previously had in 2019 when she broke the record at just 17.

After the event, Smith said it was a “long time coming.” For the past several years, the Olympic medalist had seemingly struggled with the mental side of her sport, which held her back from seeing the same success she once did five years ago. 

But something changed in Smith’s approach, and she’ll be going for gold in the women’s 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke and the 200-meter butterfly.

Speaking to Fox News Digital, Smith opened up about her mental health journey. 

“I, for a long time, I drank the Kool-Aid of the stigma around mental health. I didn’t want to have a sports psychologist. I didn’t want to talk about it. I thought you were weak, or I thought I was weak. And so the feelings that I had, I tried to shove inside and ignore them, and it festered and exploded. And I had a really hard couple of years as an athlete.” 

But one day, that changed.

“I kind of faced the music, looked in the mirror and was like, ‘You’re not weak for accepting help. Why don’t you talk to someone and see where it goes?'”

Regan Smith swim trials

And so Smith began the search for a sports psychologist who she felt was the right fit. And in October, she met Emily Klueh. 

“She has taken my swimming completely to the next level,” Smith said.

OLYMPIC MEDALIST REGAN SMITH WEARS USA SWIM CAP WITH PRIDE AHEAD OF PARIS: ‘I’M SO PROUD TO BE AMERICAN’

Klueh swam collegiately at Michigan and swam for the national team for 10 years. In 2023, she joined USA Swimming as manager of mental health and emotional wellness. Smith praised Klueh’s factual and logical approach to the sport, which she credits with turning around her performance in the pool.

“One thing that she always says to me, it’s kind of her mantra with me, she’s just like, ‘Look at the facts of the situation.’ And that was so eye-opening to me because, as an athlete, as a swimmer, I feel like I can look through things with a very emotional lens. I think that’s where nerves come from, that’s where anxiety comes from, and that’s ultimately what leads us to choking, to be blunt, and to not perform at the level you’re capable of performing at.”

“She just did such an excellent job at dumbing everything down for me, which sounds silly, but it’s a lot easier to swim fast and put up performances that you’re proud of when things are simplified. And I couldn’t figure out how to do that until she came into my life,” she continued. “And so I’m so incredibly grateful, and I think I’m able to look at swimming with excitement now instead of anxiety. And I think excitement and anxiety kind of go hand in hand, but it can be very difficult to separate the two. I never could until I started to work with her.”

Smith also spoke about another factor that improved her mental game.

Regan Smith reacts to news record

Speaking to Fox News Digital on behalf of pet nutrition brand Nulo, Smith said she adopted a cat named Roo from an animal shelter in Arizona during a difficult time in her training this year. She had fallen ill just months before from the Olympic trials and was forced to stop training.

“I was so down in the dumps. I was like, ‘This is an Olympic year, and here I am sitting on the couch, exhausted when I try to go get groceries. Like, how am I supposed to go to the Olympics this summer? This is hopeless. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’” 

That’s when her family and sports psychologist suggested that an emotional support animal might be a good solution. 

“She is the absolute sweetest thing, and she got me out of that rough patch, and she was such an incredible support system. And so when I was still kind of on the come-up recovering from my sickness, and I would come home from practice just in tears because I just wanted to be back [at] the level that I was at training-wise, she would greet me at the door.”

Nulo has partnered with eight athletes, including fellow Olympians Simone Biles and Caeleb Dressel, as a part of the Fuel Incredible campaign aimed at highlighting the connection between athletes and their pets on the journey to the top.

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