Upon hearing her diagnosis, she asked just two questions of her doctors at the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital: Could she keep running? And could she run long distances?
Her oncologist, Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy, immediately said yes to both. Exercise not only helps prevent cancer in certain situations, the physician said, but it often improves the outlook of those fighting the disease.
Smith’s treatment regimen — which involves two pills a day rather than regular chemotherapy — makes it easier for her to maintain her running schedule.
“She doesn’t quit easily,” Ramaswamy said. “It’s crazy, but it’s wonderful.”
In the past three months, Smith has finished three halfmarathons; a 10-kilometer run; several 5k races; and, at the end of September, a 24-hour run in Cleveland. In November, she plans to run a 50-hour race.
She has slowed her pace a bit but plans to continue running as long as possible, even if her goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon has given way to a new focus.
“My whole mission through all of this is to encourage people to stay active and keep doing the things that Chris Smith wears wristbands supporting his wife, Sarah Smith.
bring them joy, despite what life is throwing at you,” she said. “We all know exercise is good for us, but when you’re undergoing cancer treatment, it’s doubly good for you.”
Smith and her husband, Chris — also a marathon runner — created T-shirts to promote her goal of healthy living. The front features a blue silhouette of a racer with the words “LIVing with metastatic breast cancer.” The back says “Bound and Determined,” a catchphrase Smith picked up from an ultra-runner she met who had undergone a double lung transplant.
The couple will sport the shirts Sunday, along with “Bound and Determined” and “Sarah Strong” bracelets that friends gave them.
Darris Blackford, the marathon’s race director, met Smith during a 2016 “ambassador” trip to Dresden, Germany, as part of Clintonville resident Sarah Smith is one of 11 winners of the 2018 Lashutka Spirit Awards, recognizing those “who inspire and embody perseverance and strength.” The other winners: • Kimberlee Birney, Miamisburg • AJ Cericola, Columbus • Tony and Annie Damceski, Lewis Center • Tina Deerman, Grove City • Patrick McKennedy, Westerville • Molly Mandel, Columbus • Elizabeth Palmer, Perrysburg • Allie Wening, Toledo • Michelle Worrellia, Dublin
Columbus’ sister-cities program. He stayed in touch with Smith and her husband, and, after hearing about Sarah’s cancer diagnosis, urged Chris to nominate her for a Spirit Award — named for former Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka, who helped launch the marathon. (The event became annual in 1980 and has been tied to Nationwide Children’s Hospital since 2012.)
The five-member race committee selected Smith, Blackford said, for her joyful outlook.
“She is just taking it on and not giving up,” he said. “I just think that’s a real testament to the strength of the person she is.”
Strangers have told Smith that she’s an inspiration, and well-known ultra marathoner Harvey Lewis approached her at a race recently to tell her as much.
But Smith, who works
for the National Tractor Pulling Association, based near Worthington, is mainly thankful that she can still do what she loves.
“I’ve been to so many races, and I still tear up at every finish line,” she said.
Smith’s older sister, Julie Aldrich, will be among the 100,000 spectators expected to line the marathon route, which this year has been altered slightly in the Short North to avoid construction and on the Ohio State University campus to allow more room for runners.
Aldrich, who teaches French at Canal Winchester High School, is home on a weeklong break from a teaching exchange program in Normandy, France — an experience Smith urged her to pursue.
“She was one of my biggest advocates,” Aldrich said through tears. “It’s hard to be away, but that’s her mantra, ‘If you want to do something, do it.’”
Smith knows she has no control over her physical outcome — 20 percent of Stage IV breast-cancer patients are expected to live for five years — but she can control her mental state.
“Darn it, if five years is all I have, I’m not going to walk around being grumpy all the time,” she said. “Nobody likes that.”
On Sunday, she plans to run the race hand in hand with her husband, 61. The two met at work after a co-worker heard that she wanted to run a marathon. Four years ago, they spent their honeymoon running 100 miles through the Javelina Desert of Arizona.
Chris knows the outlook is bleak, but he does his best to match Smith’s good cheer. After a recent back surgery, he asked his wife to pick something up off the ground.
She pointed to herself and said, “Cancer.”
“You have to laugh,” he said. “What’s the point otherwise?”
Smith feels the same about competing in race after race.
“If running is part of you, of course you’re going to do it,” she said. “People have said, ‘You’re being inspiring!’ That’s weird. I’m just being me. I’m just Sarah the runner.
“I’m just enjoying my miles a little more now.”