After breaking the LSU 200-yard backstroke record as a freshman, swimmer Thomas Smith didn’t think about the plaque that would grace the wall of the Natatorium.
“It’s sort of ironic because a lot of people just see that record-breaking moment,” Smith said.
Instead, Smith thought about the satisfaction that comes from giving everything he has to the sport.
“If anything I think it just gets you excited but also deepens that connection that you have with the people who are investing in you and want you to continue to get better because we’re only getting started,” Smith said.
And for Smith, that was just the beginning. The senior broke his own record at the 2019 SEC Championships. Despite the accolades, he has never put his personal success above his team’s.
“For me, even as a senior, when I continue to race, it’s not about me,” Smith said. “It’s about LSU.”
The California native grew up in a family of swimmers. The desire to compete in college constantly motivated Smith. However, that dream of donning a collegiate swimming cap came to a halt when he was only 14 years old.
“One day I was playing with my friends, fell, had a bruise,” Smith said. “But then I noticed that the bump never went away. And so that was where I started to feel around in my knee and I realized it wasn't just a bruise. It wasn't just swollen. There was something extra there. Sure enough we went to Hoag Hospital and checked it out. They were very nonchalantly like ‘yeah, you know, you have bone cancer.”
The relationship-oriented teammate had a battle to fight all on his own.
“Probably the low point for me is being in those MRI sessions,” Smith said. “You’re in there alone, too. There’s no one to talk to. And I think it's just the unknown of knowing ya know hey for me at least I had bone cancer. For me at least it’s like man is this it? Is this gonna affect my practice later today? Is this gonna affect maybe that dream of college swimming? I don't know.”
After beating cancer, Smith received over 40 scholarship offers from elite swimming programs across the country. Attracted to the community-based culture of LSU, Smith found himself calling Baton Rouge.
“I think coming here has been a huge turning point because it’s helped me to see that my story is really a platform to be able to help out the community more and ultimately help out the youth,” Smith said. “Maybe their story doesn't involve cancer but it involves some sort of obstruction that might stop them from achieving their dream. So I get to use it as a platform and I get to use it to encourage and elevate others.”
So to help the Baton Rouge community, the decorated LSU athlete took to the kitchen, baking a tasty treat that reminded him of his grandparents.
“Every time we would visit them, I’d walk in the house and what would I smell? Bread. Me baking bread was originally just something I enjoyed, something that reminded me of my grandpa,” Smith said. “And it was a way for me to give to roommates, to teammates that sense of family and connection.”
The profits from Biggar’s Bread – named after his grandparents – were used to buy school supplies for University Terrace Elementary in 2017. Smith now volunteers at Winbourne Elementary in his free time.
“I’ve always had a history when I do sell stuff to involve some sort of charity, some sort of non-for-profit, or just a sort of philanthropy aspect to my business,” Smith said. “That’s where I was able to go and visit schools, and kind of see which schools are around LSU, what do they need and how much do they need.”
Biggar’s Bread is now evolving into what Smith calls a formal product.
“In order for us to expand and help this thing grow, I wanted to be able to take a step back and focus on all of the little details that go into selling a food product,” Smith said.
So whether in the lane of a pool or through a loaf of bread, Smith has always kept one goal – to uplift those around him.
“What I hope is when people think of me they remember that I tried to elevate others, that I tried to have a positive attitude, and that I worked hard,” Smith said.
Smith will graduate in May with four letters in swimming, a growing business, and a lasting impact on Baton Rouge.
If you’re interested in getting some of Biggar’s Premium Bread Blends, click on the pre-order link here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfe2AIWOO8KKANtJfAMep40uxxoLg_kkwJjz2LyvYFPF01rrA/viewform