Pittsburgh Connections: Swim coach prepares Leah Smith for the sport and life

Pittsburgh Connections: Swim coach prepares Leah Smith for the sport and life

PITTSBURGH — A Pittsburgh-area swim coach has been training some of our area’s best swimmers for decades. Among them, is Leah Smith,  who goes for another medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics Wednesday.

Al Rose believes his job is to provide a stepping stone, to prepare young swimmers not just for the sport, but also for life. He’s been coaching for 55 years. Dozens of his swimmers have tried to qualify for the Olympics, but only one has ever made it.

Rose said when he first starts working with an athlete, he never thinks about the potential, about the possibility of them making it to the pinnacle of their sport.

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He’s coached Smith since she was 11 years old as a member of the J.C.C Sailfish. He took her to the Olympic Trials in 2012, where she failed to make the team. This year, the now 21-year-old Oakland Catholic graduate qualified for not one, but three Olympic events. And she’s now among the best in the world.

“I was so happy for her that she reached what we call the ultimate goal of going to the Olympics,” said Rose. “Those who make it, those who have the talent, and the intestinal fortitude to work for it, and learn how to swim under extreme pressure.”

Smith is now a role model for younger swimmers in the Pittsburgh area.

“She really inspired me to work hard and feel that maybe I could go to the Olympics someday,” said Lizzy Sindhi, an 11-year-old swimmer.

Rose will be on a cruise ship during the Olympics, but promises he’ll be watching the races on television. He says he and his wife planned their trip long ago, before Smith made the team.