Minnesota’s Backstroking Finest: Regan Smith and Isabelle Stadden

regan smith, isabelle stadden
Photos Courtesy: JD Lasica & Becca Wyant

Editorial content for the 2018 TYR Pro Swim Series Santa Clara is sponsored by SwimOutlet.com. Visit SwimOutlet.com for more information on our sponsor. For full Swimming World coverage, check out our event coverage page.

By David Rieder.

When Regan Smith swam at her first-ever Pro Swim Series meet in 2017 in Santa Clara, Calif., she was a little-known 15-year-old backstroker. The Minnesota native had recently garnered her first slice of national attention with a 59-second 100 back and 2:09 200 back at a Sectionals meet in the spring, but a meet designed for professionals was a step up.

“I remember being super nervous and freaked out and scared, really intimidated to race all these Olympians,” Smith said.

But just a few weeks after that, those Olympians became her teammates as Smith qualified for her first World Championship team. Two years younger than any other American who made the trip to Budapest, Smith made the final of the 200 back and a few weeks later broke the world junior record in the 100 back.


Regan Smith — Photo Courtesy: JD Lasica

Back in Santa Clara in 2018, her bandwagon has grown exponentially. Jason Lezak, considered one of the great U.S. relay swimmers in history, was depending on Smith scoring big in the 100 and 200 back for his Swim Squad, and Smith delivered with a pair of wins, both ahead of 100 back world record-holder Kylie Masse.

Smith’s times were world-class, 59.75 in the 100 and 2:09.60 in the 200. She also showed off her improving butterfly, finishing a close second in the 200 fly in 2:10.44. Smith was primarily a butterflyer when she was younger, and now, her improving form in the stroke opens up the possibility of qualifying for the U.S. National team in more events than just backstroke.

Yes, the 16-year-old girl who was all but anonymous last year, is one of the best swimmers in the country.

“It’s kind of crazy to think of how far I’ve come, and it’s really cool to take a step back and see how much I’ve grown,” she said. “It’s something that when I was a little kid I never really imagined that I’d be able to do. I don’t even really think about it until I take a step back, and I’m like, ‘Wow, it’s really cool that I get to be doing these things.’”

But now, Smith is no longer the youngest of her peers. Also in both of those backstroke finals in Santa Clara was Isabelle Stadden, 15 years old and originally from, of all places in the world, Minnesota.


According to Google Maps, it would take less than a half-hour to drive the 22 miles northwest from Riptides’ Bluewater Aquatic Center in Apple Valley, where Smith swims, to the Aquajets’ facility in Eden Prairie, where Stadden has been training since the fall. But ironically, the two first met this year in Austin, Texas, at the first TYR Pro Swim Series meet of the year.

At that point, Stadden was the Junior National champion in the 100 back, and she was on the verge of a significant breakout.


Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

In April, Stadden swam internationally first time in Ireland as a representative of the NCSA All-Star team, and she dropped her 100 back lifetime best from 1:01.23 all the way down to 1:00.06. She followed that up the first weekend of June with an appearance representing the U.S. Junior team at the Mel Zajac Invitational, where she won the 200 back in 2:08.37 and the 100 back in 1:00.10.

Let’s put that in perspective: In the 100, Stadden ranks fourth in the U.S. for 2018 behind Olivia Smoliga, Smith and Ali DeLoof—good company to keep. But in the 200, Stadden is first in the country, three tenths ahead of Smith and eighth in the world. That’s the event where Stadden hadn’t broken 2:18 before last summer.

Her times have been slightly off at the Santa Clara meet—1:00.66 in the 100 and 2:12.32 in the 200—but it’s also the first outdoor meet she has ever swum in.

“A year ago, I never would have seen myself here,” Stadden said. “It’s pretty cool to see my times improve like that. It’s really just fun racing against all the people that you see in all the bigger meets like this. To swim with them in a heat, it’s fun, and it motivates you to try a lot harder.”

Right now, she’s at the same level or perhaps even ahead of where Smith was at this point this time in 2017—and everyone saw how that turned out. Another year, another 15-year-old backstroke stud from just south of Minneapolis. What were the chances?

“It’s kind of weird because we’re both from Minnesota, the same age and swim the same events, but it happens,” Stadden said. “It’s cool, though.”


Sit down with Smith or Stadden, and this much is obvious: Even if they possess swimming talent beyond their years, they are very much teenagers—mature, but still teenagers. They talk like teenagers, and like most teenagers, they like to have fun—which, for them, happens to be swimming.

Stadden explained how she has enjoyed the challenge of moving from a training program where she swam just 3000 yards per day to the more intensive Aquajets regimen where she faces strong challenges every day in practice. Rather than getting freaked out by racing big names and Olympians that she has looked up to, that’s fun, too.

Smith, meanwhile, said she’s enjoyed mixing more butterfly into her training, and she called a 100 back-200 fly double Saturday night where she had less than 20 minutes rest in between “fun.” Some teens back down from the tougher challenges in swimming, but not these two.

Maybe that’s the recipe for having so much success as a teenager, genuinely enjoying the process of trying to swim faster. So far, it’s working quite well for both Stadden and Smith.