Nova Scotia

North Preston's Niara Smith making waves in swimming

Twelve-year-old Niara Smith's first feat was to break a record that had been sitting on the books at the Dartmouth Crusaders swim club since the 1990s. She's been breaking records since.

12-year-old says she'd like to compete in the Olympics some day

Niara Smith is a 12-year-old swimmer from North Preston who dreams of swimming in the Olympics some day. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

She may only be 12, but swimmer Niara Smith is a budding star.

The North Preston, N.S., native is breaking records with the Dartmouth Crusaders swim club.

Smith got her swimming career started with the Cole Harbour Hurricanes but quickly jumped to a higher level of competition with the Crusaders in 2018.

"Right away … she had broken a couple of club records that had [stood] since the 1990s," said Dartmouth Crusaders swim coach Michelle Wilson. "She continued to break them last season as well."

Smith is training at home because swimming pools remain closed due to COVID-19. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

North Preston has produced many great boxers and football and basketball players over the years.

But Smith is the first swimmer to make a big splash, and she's thriving on the training she's now getting with older swimmers.

"I like the challenge a lot," said Smith. "I'm smaller than all of them. I like how they underestimate me."

Niara Smith's father, Tyler Richards, was killed in 2016. (Atlantic Funeral Homes)

Smith is doing all her training at home because public swimming pools are closed due to COVID-19.

Much of her athletic ability and drive comes from her father, Tyler Richards.

Richards was an all-star basketball player at St. Francis Xavier University who went on to play professionally with the Halifax Rainmen. Richards and Smith were close, but Niara lost her father four years ago when he was shot and killed in Halifax.

Nevell Provo runs with his niece, Niara Smith, on a trail that runs through North Preston. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Since then, Niara's mother has received great support from her extended family.

Sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles and close friends in the community have all chipped in to help get Niara to her early morning swim practices. Many of them often travel abroad to watch her compete at swim meets.

"Her dad leaving us was a super tragedy to the community itself," said Nevell Provo, Niara's uncle, who was also a standout basketball player. He now helps Niara with her workouts.

"For me, as her uncle, I just do what I feel we need to do. We've all rallied around her."

Smith shows some of the many medals she has won in her brief swimming career. (Submitted by Lekiesha Smith)

Smith just finished Grade 6 at Nelson Whynder Elementary School in North Preston and will be heading off to junior high in the fall. She's left a lasting impression on the staff at the school.

"She's never focused on the negative that other people tend to focus on," said Lesley Fraser, a program assistant at the school. "She's always very quick to point out all the great aspects of this community from the people, the church, and especially family."

Despite her age, Smith has set big goals for herself.

She would like to represent Canada at the Olympics some day. She also says she would like to see a swimming pool built in her community so young people could get more exposure to the sport.