By Jim Fenton, The Enterprise (Brockton)
BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- His name is listed in numerous spots in the record book of the Bridgewater State University men’s swimming program.
Richard Smith owns five individual marks, shares another and is part of two relay records – accomplishing all of that in two seasons after swimming at Division 1 Old Dominion University for two years.
Making Smith’s achievements even more impressive is the fact that he’s excelled in the pool despite dealing with a medical condition called complex partial seizures.
The Milford resident and a 2013 graduate of St. John’s High of Shrewsbury did not let that slow him down while at Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va., or at BSU.
Smith’s career will come to an end this week when he competes in three events at the NCAA Division 3 Championships in Indianapolis.
It marks the first time a BSU swimmer will take part in the NCAAs since Brian O’Neill and Rich Sarson in 1984. Diver Andy Fuccillo went to the NCAAs in 2003.
“I’m really excited,″ said Smith. “It’s definitely a perfect way to end my career.″
He qualified for the 200-yard individual medley race on Wednesday, with a BSU record time of 1:50.38. Smith will also swim in the 400 individual medley Thursday and the 200 breaststroke Saturday.
Smith holds the school records in the 100 backstroke, the 200 breaststroke and the 100, 200 and 400 individual medley while sharing the 50 backstroke. He also has been part of the record-setting 400 medley and 800 freestyle relays.
Smith has been dealing with complex partial seizures for a while and went to see a neurologist when he was in high school.
Medication was prescribed and has helped the condition, but there are still times when Smith suffers an attack, even while competing.
“I get this strange feeling in my head, kind of a pulsing sensation, and then every once in a while the feeling stays,″ said Smith. “Everything looks different and I get this overwhelming sensation to laugh. You can tell I’m not laughing at anything.
“One side of my face, usually the left side, comes up in a weird way. I don’t even notice it, I’m just laughing.
“If that happens too many times in a row, it’s almost like my brain gets overcharged and too excited and I’ll black out. I’ll still be awake, but I’m not conscious of where I am, who I’m with, what’s going on, anything. It’s kind of weird.″
Smith said it happened last year at the New England Championships when he was getting ready for the 400 individual medley.
“I just walked away from blocks,″ he said. “It’s pretty scary. But I definitely think this medication is helping me a lot. I can feel the pulsing sensation when it’s coming on and I can feel the medication pushing it away.″
Smith had another obstacle pop up during the 2018 New England Championships last month in Rhode Island.
As he was warming up for the 400 IM preliminary race on the second day of the four-day meet, Smith accidentally banged hands with another swimming in the next lane.
He competed in the race but the hand wound up being broken and Smith needed six screws and a plate inserted a few days later.
“It was very disheartening,″ said BSU coach Mike Caruso. “We thought his career was over.″
Said Smith: “It was just a freak thing. He hit my hand in a pretty weird way, spun my hand around. I was definitely frustrated.″
Smith, an environment geosciences major, is healed enough a month later to be able to take part in the NCAAs for one final appearance as a member of the BSU team.
“He’s probably one of the best, if not the best one, that we’ve ever had,″ said Caruso. “I knew he was a good swimmer, but I didn’t know what he had left in the tank when he transferred in.
“Sometimes kids come from Division 1 and things didn’t go the way they wanted it to and you never know what you’re going to get. The first day I saw him compete, I knew what I had.
“He’s a bright lights competitor. When the lights are the brightest, he’s shining the brightest.″