In spite of a tropical storm gusting winds up to 30 miles per hour, ripping leaves from trees, and scattering branches across roadways, Geoffrey Smith was out for a run around the streets of Mattapoisett. When The Wanderer sat down with Smith at the library in Mattapoisett, he had just returned from that run undaunted by the weather. “Oh, it wasn’t bad at all,” he said with a smile.
Smith is no stranger to pushing himself to the limit both physically and mentally. For those who aren’t familiar with Smith, the most striking aspect of his personal story is likely to be his status as an Olympian athlete and two-time winner of the Boston Marathon. Yet Smith has also made several major course changes in his life.
As a young boy growing up in Liverpool, England in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Smith admits, “I hated school.” And so he left school behind and embarked on a career as a professional firefighter. By the age of 18, he was a member of the local fire brigade. “We trained for at least an hour every shift.”
Always physically active, Smith was playing soccer and running for pleasure, enjoying the challenge of both sports and a demanding career choice. “I did a few races…. I was pretty good,” he said of those early years running five to six miles at a go.
Smith said that in spite of his lack of affiliation with a sports club or school, he made the United Kingdom’s Olympic team in 1980, going on to win the 10,000-meter race in Crystal Palace, London. “I got a lot of respect from the other runners,” he said.
“There is no ‘Six steps to faster running,’” Smith said. At that point, he was running 100 miles a week “running hard.” He said that level of personal commitment for the elite athlete can’t be understated. “It’s a great deal of hard work.”
The win at the British trials catapulted Smith into the international sports spotlight where recruiters search for talent. “I had a choice to make – stay where I was on the fire department or go to America,” he said. After a successful decade as a firefighter, Smith accepted an invitation from Providence College in Rhode Island.
The once-reluctant student now framed his days to get the most he could from the education being offered and the chance to dedicate himself to running. “I never missed a class. I studied like crazy. My routine was run, study, eat, sleep. I earned a B.S. in business management.”And all while still running 115 miles a week and competing at all distances from 800 meters to 10 miles.
In 1983, Smith ran the New York Marathon with a respectable time, placing second at 2:09:08. His sights set on a win, he then ran the 1984 and 1985 Boston Marathons, winning both. These wins gave him the opportunity to return to the Olympics for the U.K., but fate would intervene. “I got sick.”
Illness would rob him of the opportunity to perform at the Los Angeles Olympics and keep him from even reaching the starting line for the Seoul Olympics trials when he would have represented the USA.
During those years, Smith continued to pursue his education, earning a Master’s degree in business from Providence College and later a teaching degree from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. He married in 1985 and managed to balance his family life with his continuing education and his running, continuing to compete in major racing events around the world.
In 1998 mononucleosis took its toll on Smith, along with the intense training he had subjected his body to. He needed to refocus and go back to basics. By 1990 he had decreased his mileage focus to 85 miles a week and speed.
Smith’s intense blue eyes speak to his character; whatever he pursues, he does so with focus and dedication, and when facing life-changing decisions his personal truth stands him in good stead. “I was injured…. I was getting older,” he said. “I was struggling to run.”
That pull of competition and challenging himself physically never completely abated.
Later while training for the 1992 Olympic trials, he fell during a run along Brandt Island Road, shattering his hip, along with that Olympic dream.
He’d spend a decade as a high achieving stockbroker, “But I really didn’t like it,” he shared.
Later he faced another crossroads when he decided to leave the world of finance and become a special education teacher. “I loved the students,” he said. A decade later when the school system faced financial hardship and support was cut from some special education staffing, Smith decided it was time to move on.
Today, Smith is once again recreating himself – and, he’s back to running.
“Life is survival,” Smith said waxing philosophical. After two hip replacements, he has returned to his sport. Of running today, he said, “I don’t run miles, I run minutes.”
“People worry about speed…. I want to go out everyday and run whether it’s thirty minutes or an hour…. I feel good and that makes me happy.”
Smith also views the injuries and illnesses that sidelined his elite running status through a lens of wisdom. “Accepting where you are at this point is important…. Don’t look back. Look forward with hope.”
Still running and just as passionate about his sport, Smith has organized a road race for his adopted hometown of Mattapoisett. “Putting on a race is a financial gamble,” he said, but Smith doesn’t shy away from challenges, even now.
On Saturday, November 11, the Veterans Day Road Race will debut. Visit www.mproadraces.com for information.
By Marilou Newell
*This version of the article contains various corrections on pertinent information relative to Smith’s career. Please note that Smith did not win an Olympic gold medal as stated in the printed edition of The Wanderer.