October 2017 - ATHLETE PROFILE
Family: Wife, Despina; three sons, John, Luke and Bryant; three daughters, Melissa, Lynn and Fotini; four grandchildren
Occupation: Retired teamster driver from ABF Freight Systems (Local 294)
Primary Sport: Running
Secondary Sports: Swimming, cross-training, spin classes, yoga, cycling
By Deb Czech
While most runners agree that marathons represent a worthy culmination of training, perseverance and gutsiness, some marathons also mark significant personal milestones. So it is with his October marathon that Terry Smith intends to conquer. “Running in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, will be the celebration of my 50-year ordeal. I’m looking forward to a happy ending and a respectable finishing time,” he says with a grin.
But the 70-year old runner from Galway, known as “Chief” to his Fleet Feet Sports training group, has quite a tale to tell about the last five decades. His cheerful smile and friendly nature, shared with both longtime running friends and new acquaintances he meets at running events, mask some dark times earlier in his life.
Terry, who was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967, served in Vietnam as a combat infantry soldier with the 1st Air Cavalry Division. “I never expected to come home. Sixty percent of my outfit was wounded or killed. Just the way it was. We lived in the jungle in deplorable conditions for one year,” Terry wrote in his runner profile for this year’s Marine Corps Marathon.
“Well, I survived and came back to the world with a fondness for weed and resentment for authority. I never said a word about Vietnam for 20-some years. Thought I was doing the world a favor. But, my addictions and behavior escalated until I found myself in rehab, divorced, with medical problems, loss of family, net worth and my dignity.”
Terry lived in Broadalbin for 15 years before moving to Galway in 1993. He first started running in his mid-50s after his physician recommended it to him. “It took me two years to be able to run two miles,” he notes, chuckling.
Terry’s family members have been huge supporters of his pursuit of running right from the beginning. “My first race was in Omaha, Nebraska in 2008, where one of my sons lived. He knew I’d started running and he signed me up for a race during my visit out there. I came in third in my age group, and the second time I ran that race, I finished first in my age group.”
He’s made tremendous advancements since those early days, recently completing The Saratoga Palio: Melanie Merola O’Donnell Memorial Half Marathon in 2:00:02, which earned him a second-place finish for runners age 70-74.
Terry raves about the team at the Saratoga Regional YMCA and their contributions to his success. “After several injuries over the years, I’ve learned to cross-train. I have YMCA instructors to thank for all the classes and support. I’ve met so many nice people there. This whole area is where so much of the caring and healing in my life have happened.”
Asked about any advice he can offer to new runners who are entering the sport, he notes, “I’ve learned to listen to my body. Work with what you’ve got.” He rotates among three pairs of running shoes.
In 2012, Terry retired from his work as a teamster driver. After Hurricane Sandy shut down his first New York City Marathon attempt in November of that year (the race was cancelled), Terry returned to conquer the course in 2013 in 4:40:19. “I grew up in Mount Kisco, and still have many ties there, so running the course in New York was very special. Looking back at it now, I think completing that race was also like the ticker-tape parade we never had, coming back from Vietnam.”
Terry notes that running has helped strengthen relationships with his children and has become part of his routine when he travels. “The first half marathon I did in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, all three of my sons came to run the race with me.” He ran the Atlanta Peachtree Half Marathon with his eldest son, John, and daughter-in-law, Faith, who live in Georgia. He competed in the Baltimore Marathon a few years ago, as well as in a half marathon and 10K with his son Luke. The runner-friendly climate of San Diego and Terry’s youngest son, Bryant, beckoned for a half marathon there as well. In addition, one of his daughters, Lynn Hughes of Perth, NY, has run several half marathons with him. The two also often run together in the Fulmont Roadrunners’ Mule Haul 8K.
“I like to go to big destinations for marathons. I enjoy all the festivities, and I become a local through the connections I make to other runners. I find yoga and fitness places and feel like I’m part of the area,” Terry explains.
In 2016, Terry ran in the Dublin Marathon. “I chose Dublin because of my Irish heritage. All four of my grandparents are from Ireland and I thought it was time I go there. The people were so warm and friendly and lots of fun.”
When asked about his success in running, Terry is quick to note all those who have contributed to his endeavors. “This story really shouldn’t be about me. It’s about all the people who have helped me along the way: my doctor, my priest, my counselors, my sponsor, the team at Saratoga YMCA, all the coaches and runners I know through various training groups and running clubs, wellness practitioners, and so many friends I’ve made.”
Terry receives an enormous amount of support at home from his wife, Despina, aka Debbie. “She is my nutritionist, IT guru, PR manager and travel agent. She even designed a logo for me,” Terry points out. Running, it seems, has become a family affair, with involvement spreading throughout the entire Smith clan.
Though he loves the travel and event hoopla at marathons, it’s the training that Terry says is his favorite part of the process. “I get up at dawn and run six miles every morning. The rest of my day doesn’t start until that run is done.”
Terry’s current running coach is Mark Mindel of Ballston Lake, who coaches his Fleet Feet Sports half and full marathon training group. “Mark watches out for me. He’ll tell me to go a little easier with my training if I’m trying to do too much. He knows how important this Marine Corps Marathon is to me.”
Mark notes Terry’s dedication and important role in the training group: “Terry is one of the hardest workers on our team. We have over 35 runners training for various half and full marathons this fall and Terry, shall we say, is the most senior in age of all of them. Yet he is always there, and usually the first to arrive and last to leave. He will always help me with the setup and breakdown of the water table, putting my bike away, and returning the signage to my car, telling me, ‘Move over, old man!’ though, truth be told, he’s even got me by a few years. His work ethic is second to none. And the 20- and 30-somethings look up to him in awe, because he trains as hard as all of them, and his story is a true inspiration!”
Looking back at his running progress, which began with his work to pull his life together and leave unhealthy habits behind, Terry reflected in his Marine Corps Marathon profile, “Recovery was not easy for me to grasp. I did not get it. Trust, communication, and sharing were foreign to me. Along the way, I was encouraged to start running. After my initial resistance, I began to put in the time and effort it required. It changed my life. Fitness – mentally, physically and spiritually – is now my main goal in life.”
To those just starting to improve their fitness and well-being, Terry offers these words of encouragement, “You have to be open to accepting help and seeing the answers that are in front of you.”
Deb Czech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the owner of Miles Ahead Communications in Saratoga Springs, where she writes about everything from road races to precast concrete to craft cocktails. In her free time, Deb runs, skis, volunteers, and explores plant-based cooking.