IT WAS the moment that capped off a journey of more than three decades.
Standing atop the podium at the recent Australian Surf Life Saving Championships at North Kirra, John-Paul Smith's rise to a national champion fulfilled a dream which began in the school yard, for a bright-eyed boy with a big future on the track.
"At school level I won state sprint titles, but I only got to silver and bronze at national level. This is why it was so special for me, because it was my first national title and I'm now 46,” Smith said, after claiming a beach flags gold in the 45-49 age classification.
"You always wonder if you've fulfilled your potential, so you could say there was unfinished business.”
Not only was Smith's national title his first, but it was the first male national title for a growing Salt Surf Life Saving Club, where Smith is a patrolling member.
Joining Latarcia Hurt (2011) as a Salt SLSC national champion is a moment not lost on Smith, who also claimed silver in beach sprints as Salt's sole representative at the Aussies.
"I've been involved with the club for the last 10 years, and I've been the only Salt representative for a while now,” Smith said.
"We're only a newer club and I had a goal to bring home a national title for the club, so it was very exciting.”
Making Smith's title win even more remarkable was the battle he's been waging for the last year-and-a-half to overcome a series of debilitating injuries.
Working with Salt Beach coach Ben Clements and the club physio, Smith said he was able to train smarter to build towards peak fitness nearing the Aussies.
"I had an achilles injury which has been hard to overcome. I think it was just wear and tear and it can be pretty brutal, so you just train a bit smarter,” he said.
"Ben has been very supportive, and I can't speak highly enough of him.”
Support has been crucial for Smith, who credits his family as the inspiration spurring him on.
"My biggest supporters are my wife Tracy and our daughter Eden, who's very inspirational and for a lot of parents, that's why you do things. She's always been there and that's what you need,” Smith said.
"Dad just loves hanging out on the beach and helping out. We're very close and he just loves watching me run and so does mum, they were very proud.”
Not resting on his laurels, Smith competed in Salt's Club Championships on Good Friday, as he looks to go one better in 2018.
"The goal now is to defend the title and look to the World Life Saving Championships in Adelaide at the end of 2018. So there's plenty of hard work ahead,” Smith said.