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Stroke-By-Stroke: A Journey to Self Love

Posted on 05 June 2020

Hello! My name is Kierra Smith and I am a 2016 Canadian Olympian and LUS sponsored athlete. I have been a competitive swimmer for 16 yearsーbut I've only loved my curly hair for about 13 months.

I'm not sure what sparked my Olympic dream, but I remember when I was 9 years old in track and field, I had a bracelet with an Olympic charm on it. While I waited my turn to throw a discus, the girl in front of me asked if I wanted to compete in the Olympics and I remember feeling embarrassed for having such a big goal. So, I tucked it away and flipped the charm on my bracelet over.

Then I found competitive swimming.

My parents put me in a summer swim camp and I instantly fell in love. I finally had a place where I felt like myself, where I could set big, Olympic-sized goals and work towards them without feeling judged. At the ripe age of 10, I had found my calling.

As the years went on, my hair became dried out and extra frizzy from being in chlorine pools 24/7.

Other girls showed up to school in full makeup and pin-straight hair or beautiful waves.

Then I found competitive swimming.

My parents put me in a summer swim camp and I instantly fell in love. I finally had a place where I felt like myself, where I could set big, Olympic-sized goals and work towards them without feeling judged. At the ripe age of 10, I had found my calling.

As the years went on, my hair became dried out and extra frizzy from being in chlorine pools 24/7.

Other girls showed up to school in full makeup and pin-straight hair or beautiful waves.

I showed up with goggle marks and wet hair because I came to school directly from the pool. I remember once when I wore my wet, fresh-from-the-pool curls to class, I self-consciously asked my friend if she thought I should put my hair up. She said: “Yeah, I would.”

"Moments like these made me thankful for my swim cap because it hid the curls I was so ashamed of. It was like a disguise I wore to look like everyone else. The pool was the only place I felt like I fit in."

Circa 2015—my hair was as unhealthy as it had ever been.

Whenever I went to a hair salon, I would always ask about getting a Brazilian blowout. My hair wasn’t healthy to start with, so every hairdresser cautioned that my hair could fall out from the treatment. Not wanting to risk it, I instead decided to start flat ironing and bleaching my hair.

It was a bit of extra work, but I was willing to do anything to fit in and I thought my hair was healthy enough. (At the time, “not falling out” was my standard of hair health.)

I imagined after retiring from competitive swimming that my hair would rejuvenate itself, I would finally get that Brazilian blowout, and I’d live my life with the straight hair I always dreamed of.

"I convinced myself that straight hair Kierra would be more confident. That thought wasn’t true, authentic, or fair to me."

I didn’t yet recognize that my curly hair was a beautiful and unique part of who I am.

Had I found curly hair products that worked, I might have explored wearing my hair curly earlier in life. But at the time, I didn’t know who to ask for advice and I didn’t know what products were telling me the truth. I knew that if I wanted to be able to confidently style and wear my curly hair, I would need help laying out the path to get there.

I understood from sports that I would need to trust the process, that there would be good and bad days, and that the journey wouldn’t be a linear path to success. I could handle the highs and lows of trying to love my curls, but I didn’t know what the first step would be.

"Was my hair different from other curly girls’ since all the products I tried didn’t work for me?"

Ultimately, I decided to stop straightening my hair and started trying to embrace my curls, making up my own routine as I went along. I decided that I would find the thickest (that was my only criteria) conditioner at the drugstore, use the matching shampoo, and then use that same conditioner to help me style.

June 2018. I REALLY thought my curls were poppin here. I wish I could go back and tell myself about deep conditioner.

June 2018. I wish I could go back and tell myself about deep conditioner.

When I got out of the shower, I rang the water out of my hair and applied conditioner over it as though I was about to put my hair in a ponytail. I thought that water would dilute the conditioner and it wouldn’t be as moisturizing. I did this for about a year and the results were...terrible. My curls were undefined, frizzy, and lifeless. And to add to the frustration, my swim cap always slipped off in the pool. The goal, though, was to wear my curls down and try to reduce poofiness – and I totally achieved that.

August 2018. Still working my self made apply-conditioner-to-30% dry- hair and the blow dry downwards method. I stopped lightening and straightening my hair.

August 2018. Still working my self-made 'apply conditioner to 30% dry hair and then blow dry downwards' method.

Fast forward to 2019 during the Canadian World Championship trials in Toronto and my swim coach told all the girls that we needed to get haircuts. I was new to the city and wasn’t familiar with any salons, so I started a Google search for a trim. I found a salon called the Curl Ambassadors that was 10 minutes from the pool, and they fit me in that week. I went in expecting just a trim and a style. I wasn’t really looking for curly answers anymore – but I got SO lucky. I sat down and was asked how much I liked my curls. I said, “a 4/10.” It wasn’t zero! They asked what I liked, and I said the length and my natural color.

They told me that I would leave loving my curls a 10/10. At this point, there hadn’t been a single day in 25 years where I was happy that I had curls, but I was willing to listen to what they had to say. During that appointment they used the LUS shampoo, conditioner, and Curly All-In-One formula on my hair. I was under one of those over-head hair dryers for about 40 minutes and then sat back down in front of the mirror.

Sitting in that Pickering hair salon was the first time I felt what it was like to love my hair exactly how it grew. I couldn’t believe that it was my hair. It was CURLY, defined, touchable, and had volume without frizz. Remembering the experience still makes me smile and I am excited just putting it into writing now. That day was a huge turning point for me. It was the first time that I felt I could embrace who I am and be authentically me. I was taught how to enhance my natural hair instead of hiding it.

"It was a piece of myself that I didn’t know was missing and was the first step on my journey to fully loving myself for being me."

Without hesitation, I bought the LUS 3-step system and took it home. When I tried it for myself, I made the mistake of not researching how to apply the All-In-One properly. Instead I used my self-discovered method of wringing the water out of my hair and then just slathering the All-In-One over the top layer. Needless to say, my results were not salon quality.

The difference, though, was that I knew what my goal was, and I knew that someone else, this hairstylist, could help me get there. She doesn’t know this, but looking back, she was my hair coach. That day, I drove my poorly-styled curls back to the salon and was SO happy to see her working. I showed her my results and she took the time to explain to me how applying more water, clumping my hair, then applying even more water, and letting my hair dry without touching it would transform my curls.

Over the next 4 months, I kept up my trial and error methods and my results became better with each wash. At the end of August, I was out of my All-In-One product and I went to the LUS Brands website to reorder – this is when I found all their how-to videos with SO MANY GIRLS WITH HAIR LIKE MINE! I felt like I was back in that first week of summer swim camp where I finally fit in.

I felt so connected, excited, and enthusiastic about everything I was reading.

I immediately reached out to the LUS family and explained who I was and how their product had impacted my life.

They were so welcoming and supportive of my swimming and my curl journey that they became my title sponsor on the road to the 2020 (now 2021!) Tokyo Olympics.

I grew up with a strong community and support system in the water, which is a big part of what helped get me to the 2016 Olympics.

The LUS Family was so welcoming and supportive of both my swimming and my curl journey. Going into the Olympic year, LUS Brands became my title sponsor. LUS Brands is supporting me, my curls, and my swimming on the road to the Tokyo Olympics.

I grew up with a strong community, and support system in the water which is a big part of what helped get me to the 2016 Olympics. I wouldn’t be an Olympian if I jumped in the pool on my own every day – this took a village. In the same regard, I am so grateful that I found the LUS Brands family, a community that has been so encouraging on my journey to healthier hair and to truly loving myself and my curls.

I wouldn’t be an Olympian if I jumped in the pool on my own every day – this took a village. In the same regard, I am so grateful that I found the LUS Brands family, a community that has been so encouraging on my journey to healthier hair and to truly loving myself and my curls.

Xo

— Kierra 💕

@kierrasmith

Xo

— Kierra 💕

@kierrasmith


We're proud to be sponsoring Kierra's journey to the Tokyo Olympics but, due to everything happening in the world, her time on the world stage has been postponed.

In the meantime, she's been training hard and rocking her curls proudly.

Check out her tutorial to see how she uses our 3-Step System to keep her curls healthy and moisturized!


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