You don’t know it and you certainly won’t remember, but when you were just 11 days old, you met a great man and a very important person to your daddy and me. He taught us both many things and helped us accomplish some of our biggest goals.
I met him in 2010 when your dad signed me up for a six-weeks-to-speed training series with Fleet Feet (he wanted me to run faster) and the strength workouts took place at this man’s gym. He was exactly what you picture when you think of an IRONMAN, marathoner, or even Ninja Warrior – tall, lean, strong.
During six-weeks-to-speed, he taught the runners about the importance of upper-body strength when running, particularly push-ups to help expand the chest and maintain good posture. Our class also spent time on the spin bikes at his gym – something I’d never done before. I felt an immediate connection, when he let me borrow his daughter’s bike shoes because one of the bikes had special pedals and my feet were just the right size.
Shortly after the class, your dad and I joined his gym. It’s a small gym in a beautiful neighborhood here in Winston that specializes in personal training and strength and mobility at ANY age. I think he was very excited to have two younger, athletic, and competitively-minded individuals in his midst and he openly shared his tips, tricks, favorite exercises, and race experiences, all the while inspiring us.
We learned about high-intensity “tabata” workouts, but he also made sure to focus on balance, moderation, and the importance of rest and mental health. We learned about natural movement, and also spent time flipping tractor tires in his parking lot. He focused on the importance of balance-based workouts, encouraging us to stand on one foot or on a Bosu ball while doing arm exercises. He told us about his favorite races, including the Marine Corps Marathon (which dad and I have both done twice now) and IRONMAN Louisville. He shared his thoughts on diet and nutrition, focusing on a low carb, high protein diet, but maybe not giving up beer. With that, some of his key race tips were that fried chicken makes an excellent pre-race dinner and that strips of bacon are awesome snacks during the bike leg of a triathlon (both high in fat and protein). He helped me navigate the ever-confusing world of bikes, shoes, and pedals when I bought my first tri bike. And furthermore, he taught me to ride with clipless pedals and took me on my first road rides with them.
Perhaps most importantly, he got me started in triathlons in 2011 and by 2013 had trained and encouraged me to one of my proudest accomplishments, second only to being your mom, becoming an IRONMAN in Louisville, KY.
During my first triathlon in 2011, 36 North, he and I submitted the same swim time, which resulted in him starting just 15 second behind me in the pool. Even though, I’m absolutely certain he could have passed me in the pool, he didn’t. Instead he stayed back and let me set a pace and maintain my confidence through that first leg of the race, sending me some encouraging words as he jogged past on our way into T1.
Your dad and I were back at that race this year, competing as a relay as you’d been growing for about 6 months inside me (you may recall it as the morning that mommy jumped into a 62-degree pool and swam 300 yards with you!). Much of this year’s race was dedicated to this great man, including the volunteers decked out in his favorite color t-shirts – bright orange! He was there at the finish line to congratulate racers as they came through and hand them their finisher towels. I got a chance to chat with him and we reminisced about that race in 2011 being, where it all started for me. I was able to tell him that I wouldn’t be who I am today without him and his coaching, support, and encouragement.
Kane, it’s rare to get that opportunity, to tell someone exactly what they’ve meant to you and your life. So, if you take nothing else from this, I encourage you to seek out those opportunities and share your gratitude as you encounter teachers, coaches, and mentors who make an impact on your life – they will appreciate hearing from you and you will be ever better for sharing that gratitude with them.
So, why am I sharing this with you? Why now? Well, this great man that I’m telling you all about, his name is Richard Smiley. Late last year he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. At the time, he was probably in the best shape of his life, having built a jungle gym of sorts in the basement of his gym in order to train for American Ninja Warrior. He fought long and hard, but ultimately cancer took his life on Saturday evening.
I’ll never forget the night I decided I was ready to sign up for IRONMAN Louisville. Richard had convinced me that to timing was perfect to continue my training on the back-end of IRONMAN 70.3 Raleigh and that 12 weeks after doing my first half iron, I could complete my first full. Now, there were certainly more “mainstream” options for training for these races, but I stuck with Richard. It felt a little like training with Mr. Miyagi – a little unconventional, but more personalized and special. We would meet at his gym every few weeks. The first time, I came prepared for a workout, but soon learned that these meetings were more for mental and emotional status checks. Soon, I started picking up Subway on my way over and we would just sit and talk about how training was going, what the next weeks were looking like, and, as they got closer, race strategies and visualizations. I cherish those lunch conversations and truly feel they were important parts of my training.
You see, many of the things I pride myself on being and being able to do are only possible because Richard was a part of my life, and I hope to pass some of that influence onto you, just as I do whenever I mentor other triathletes today.
As your dad does his first half IRONMAN this weekend, that too is something we would not be doing without Richard. So, when you see dad eating fried chicken on Friday night, or packaging up bacon for his bike ride, you’ll know why.
And to Richard, we miss you so much! You have meant so much to us and we will continue to pass on your teachings to the triathlon community. I’m comforted in knowing that you are pain- and cancer-free and are likely climbing up a giant salmon ladder right now with a well-sighted and pain-free Daisy at your side! We are Smiley Strong thanks to you!
I think I’ll always take a second glance whenever I see a tall, lean man running or biking, hoping, just for a second, that it’s you…
Finally, I still don’t feel this post does Richard justice. I’ve been thinking about writing it since we talked at 36 North in May and when I learned of his passing yesterday, I knew I had to go ahead and start typing. I know I’ve failed to mention that he served in the military in his younger years and don’t think I’ve fully conveyed his kindness, love for his family, or just overall enthusiasm for life… not to mention his fandom of Queen. So, know that all this and more is true. Love you, Richard!