Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series leading up to the Brookings Marathon. Prairie Striders Running Club will conduct four races May 12-13 – the Scotty Roberts 5K and kids’ run May 12 and the marathon, half marathon and relay May 13. For more information, go to BrookingsMarathon.com or PrairieStriders.net.
Ed Smith’s running story sounds common enough.
The 43-year-old Olathe, Kansas, resident says he decided about three years ago to embark on a healthier lifestyle, working out at a gym and logging a few miles. He entered a few 5Ks and found the 3.1-mile race a fun experience.
“I happened to mention it to one of my co-workers and she said, ‘Well, I’m going to do a half marathon – you should do it with me,’” he recalls. “I had about four months to get ready for it, so I figured, what the heck, I’ll try it.”
In the fall of 2014, Smith participated in his first half marathon. He enjoyed the race so much he completed two more in 2015.
What sets Smith’s story apart from many other middle-aged road warriors, however, is his wheelchair. And, on Saturday, May 13, he will make local running history when he covers the 13.1 mile Brookings Half Marathon course as the first wheelchair participant in the race’s 48 years.
The half marathon is one of the featured events of the annual Brookings Marathon, which will draw an estimated 1,000 runners for the marathon, half marathon, marathon relay, and Scotty Roberts 5K. Activities kick off with the 5K at 6 p.m., Friday, May 12. (For more details, check out the marathon website – http://www.brookingsmarathon.com/)
Smith, a Brewster, Minn., native, holds degrees in chemistry and medical technology from South Dakota State, classes of 1997 and 2001. Currently between jobs, his background lies in managing clinical laboratories.
Fifteen years ago, three years before he moved to Kansas, Smith suffered a spinal cord injury in a snowmobile accident. A former high school baseball and football player, he connected with a group – Kansas Accessible Sports – that provides opportunities for people in wheelchairs to play sports.
“I got into the mindset that I can still play, I can still be competitive in a chair,” Smith says. “The first couple of times were tough, though. I hadn’t done anything in quite a while and my stamina was not where I wanted it to be. But, my competitive juices were there.”
He focused his efforts mostly on softball and basketball, and downloaded fitness applications on his phone. The more he did, the more progress he saw.
“I thought, ‘I can do this,’” recalls Smith. “I kept pushing myself. Then, three years or so ago, I got the bug about being active; not just to play ball, but to do something more to maintain my fitness.”
After his half marathons in 2015, Smith found himself sidelined by health issues. Then, earlier this year, after he was back working out again, a friend on Facebook mentioned the Brookings Half Marathon. He looked up the race online and thought heading back to the community of his alma mater would be fun.
“It was no brainer, as they say, to get back in the game,” Smith laughs.
In February, he started with three-mile routes. Within a month, he had increased his mileage to seven and figured if he continued to improve every week, he would have no problem making 13.1 by race day.
Smith, who hopes to do a full marathon one day, says he doesn’t follow any particular training program and instead aims to fit his workouts in as best he can. Each day, he selects different routes and seeks out hills for the challenge. He lifts weights for muscle strength and plays team sports to help build endurance.
By early March, he was hitting a pace of about 10 and half minutes per mile, but knows he’ll have to improve to meet his race goal of a personal best and cross the finish line in under two hours. Smith says he was both surprised and pleased to hear from race director Dr. Matt Bien that he would be the event’s first wheelchair racer.
“Here in Kansas City, I see other wheelchair racers and some on handcycles,” he says. “I know Brookings is a bit more rural and not as populated, but still, in 47 years, you’d think there would be at least one.”
Studying the course map online, Smith says the portion that runs through McCrory Gardens initially gave him some concern. He races in his everyday wheelchair, not the souped up, specialized versions typically used by elite athletes.
“My first thought was, what’s going to happen here, if it rains?” says Smith of what went through his mind. “Going through the mud is not an option. But, Matt gave me an alternate route on the sidewalk or grass.”
Now, rain or shine, personal record or not, Smith says he looks forward to the Brookings Half Marathon: “Knowing that feeling of accomplishment, getting the medal and having the pictures taken. It just feels great.”