By Ryan Sanudo
Sacred Heart University’s assistant rowing coach, Jaclyn Smith, was acknowledged by the United States Olympic Committee for “Best of September Honors.” The honors recognize her team’s performance at the World Rowing Championships in Sarasota, Fla., which earned the team’s fourth straight silver medal at a World Championships or Paralympic Games competition.
“Every year is a different experience,” said Smith. “From our fans there’s more hype about the Paralympics. You understand more about the Paralympics since it’s more publicized. We prefer the World Championships because it’s better streaming for our fans.”
Smith qualifies as a Paralympian because she was born with a genetic condition called ocular albinism. This means she has no pigment in her hair, skin or eyes. She has photophobia, which is sensitivity to light, and nystagmus, which causes her eyes to move rapidly and involuntarily from side to side. Her vision is at a level that makes her legally blind.
Last year, Smith won the silver medal at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It’s an accomplishment that Smith will never forget because of an immense reason.
“The thing that got me for the Paralympics was that our final was on Sept. 11,” said Smith. “Both of my parents are New York City police officers. If you told me 15 years ago that I’d be competing in the Paralympics on this day with a shot to win gold and both parents would still be there, I’d tell you that you’re crazy. Back then I didn’t know that my mom and dad were coming home that day. It was pretty surreal.”
It wasn’t easy for Smith and her team to play in Rio last year. With all the conditions and the environment, those obstacles for Smith were tough to just forget and play on.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could do this,” said Smith. “Being able to go over to Brazil through a time of adversity with the water conditions was tough. But going over there, it wasn’t nearly what they were saying. The people were great, the security was great, and being able to compete with other athletes from different countries was phenomenal.”
As for the Sacred Heart women’s team, the rowing program is taking strides in its development. Smith has seen encouraging signs during practices and competitive events.
“The program is getting better and better each year,” said Smith. “We have such a strong crew that will continue to progress. The girls are getting more into it. We’re getting girls from high school programs now so overall, I like our direction.”
Smith still enjoys rowing and the physical nature of the sport, but coaching is what motivates her now.
“It’s a different relationship,” said Smith. “Being an athlete, you get to spend time with each other on the weekend. I really try to watch what I do because I want to lead them by example. If I’m not at my best all the time, I can’t expect them to be at their best.”
Not everyone can say that their coach is an Olympian. Senior captains Sarah Poirier and Anna Sufcynski have the opportunity to know what it’s like having of a coach of that stature.
“Coach Smith is extremely dedicated,” said Sufcynski. “I can always count on her to have an answer, to be at every practice and race, and to give great advice about anything.”
According to the Sacred Heart Athletic Communications press release, Smith will automatically qualify for consideration for the 2017 Team USA Awards, which will be held in December.
“As an Olympian, she is taught not only how to row as one, but to behave as one, which gives us a role model to base our actions off of,” said Poirier. “She has seen and raced against teams from other countries which broadens her knowledge of rowing altogether, which she then uses to coach us.”
The Pioneers’ next meet is Nov. 4 at The Head of Hooch Regatta in Chattanooga, Tenn.