Challenge SPORT

Fresh start

Behind one of the Australian Olympic freestyle relay teammates who finished fourth in August is a story of miraculous recovery from substance addiction

Dan Smith swimming

It was clear Dan Smith had what it took to be a champion when he broke Ian Thorpe's Australian 200m freestyle record at age 13; it became even clearer the following year when he achieved eight national titles.

But binge drinking and drugs soon threatened to derail Dan's sporting career.

A month after his first open Australian title at age 18 a driving-under-the-influence accident and high speed chase brought his personal life crashing down.

"All that kind of stuff that the world throws at you... I thought that was the answer to life," Dan told sports media organisation Passion for Sport after competing in Rio.

In the aftermath of his driving offenses, the 25-year-old recalls, "I didn't really know how to deal with all the shame, guilt and embarrassment."

As "a very empty, lost and broken boy" he remembers turning to heroin. "Within a month, I kid you not, I lost everything."

Dan Smith
Dan Smith says that he is excited about his future

For five years attempts to recover failed until Transformations, a Christian rehab in Hervey Bay, helped him commit his life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 2014.

"My Christianity has given me new-found hope... God has completely restored everything in my life," Dan told Bond University Gold Coast News in 2015.

"I was baptised [as a public declaration of faith in Jesus] into Elevation Church in Varsity Lakes, which has given me a very good foundation of friends and people that hold me accountable to staying clean."

Dan's swim in Rio was below his best, but now he handles disappointments differently.

"I am like a complete new person now. God has brought peace into my life. He's filled me from the inside out," Dan told Passion for Sport in Rio.

"I was the one of the four who didn't do my best [in Rio]. All the other boys did amazing. I was like, why me?"

“When you realise how valuable you are...that’s when you will become successful”His response is enlightening.

"Swimming is not who I am, it's just what I do ... God [still] loves me.

"It has taken me a bit of time to realise this. God doesn't need gold medals and stuff. He cares more about my character and what's on the inside."

The fourth place has taught Dan "to be grateful and appreciate that I am here; I'm alive, healthy, fit, and I'm living a good life.

"I am grateful to be part of the Australian team. They're all supportive of me and my journey and how far I have come."

Previous bumps have not fazed Dan either, including eighth place at the 2014 Brisbane trials for the Commonwealth Games.

"I completely believe I've been given another chance at life, the last chance – I've had too many," he told the Gold Coast Bulletin in 2014.

Following the Rio result, his mind remained in that state of thankfulness.

He remembered that during his five-year addiction he was clean for six months until personal news floored him.

"This time I wanted to kill myself [with drugs]," Dan explained to Passion for Sport.

Dan Smith in Russia
KAZAN, RUSSIA - AUGUST 7, 2015: Bronze medallists Cameron McEvoy, David McKeon, Thomas Fraser-Holmes and Daniel Smith pose during the medal ceremony for the Men’s 4x200m Freestyle at the 16th FINA World Championships. (Photo Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

"I didn't want to be alive anymore. That is why I am a Christian now."

Dan adds that he believes in Jesus because he feels like he has "had more lives than a cat" and has "been to hell and back".

"God's hand has been on my life the whole time and I couldn't deny it anymore."

In the spotlight as a teenager Dan knew swimming was not satisfying him, hence his devastating experiments with drugs and alcohol.

"I always thought drugs and alcohol were going to fulfil me and make me feel loved and accepted – they never did.

"The Lord's love is unconditional and free. It's incredible to think that [Jesus] loves us and doesn't want anything from us, just a [genuine] relationship.

"When you realise how valuable you are, your worth as a person, as a human, that's when you will become successful."

Looking ahead to Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Dan is optimistic.

"With the Lord, I guess the sky's the limit with my Olympic journey and my swimming," he says. "I'm just more driven than ever, more focussed, and I'm just really excited about my future now."

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