Shelby Township teacher completes 17th Boston Marathon
Wellness group born through her passion
By Sarah Wojcik
Posted May 16, 2017
SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Nancy Smith, a fifth-grade teacher at Roberts Elementary School and a Shelby Township resident, didn’t start running until she was in her 40s.
She completed her 17th consecutive Boston Marathon April 17. Including the Boston Marathons, Smith said she has run at least 35 marathons.
“I ran in college as part of our gymnastics team training, and got out of it when I got married and had children and was teaching full time and getting my master’s,” Smith said. “After the kids were grown, I got back into running.”
She said the Boston Marathon is her favorite because of the crowd support — spectators literally line the entire 26.2 miles of the course. She said it also is an honor to qualify for the elite running event.
“A few years ago, they changed the qualifications guidelines, so it’s even more difficult than when I first started,” she said. “I appreciate it. I’m grateful more and more as I get older.”
For the past three years, Smith has run on the Dana-Farber Cancer Research team in honor of Brooke Mulford, her 12-year-old patient-partner who has neuroblastoma. Mulford, a New Jersey resident, has been hospitalized at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for the past few months.
“I feel like running on team Dana-Farber, I’m running for a greater purpose,” she said. “This year, I struggled with training because Brooke has really been struggling with cancer, and they stopped treatment. I’ve just been heartbroken.”
Smith has run the Boston Marathon in all types of conditions, from heat to rain, and was present during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
“The year of the bombing was a life-changing one,” she said. “I know that anyone that ran that year will never forget. It was surreal. We didn’t understand the full extent of it until the next morning, when we saw pictures in the paper.”
She said she was among the “5700 Boston Strong,” a wave of participants behind the bombing that got pulled off the course. The city was in lockdown, and it was difficult to get any cell phone service with the number of people trying to communicate with loved ones.
“I couldn’t get back to my hotel, so a Boston couple took me to their home, made sure I had food and let me on the computer so I could let people know (I was OK),” Smith said. “Everybody was so gracious and caring. When I finally got in my hotel, they provided a free buffet for everyone.”
One of the best memories of her life, Smith said, was when the “5700 Boston Strong” were invited to finish the marathon they never got to complete by crossing the finish line at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before the start of the 2013 Indianapolis 500.
“I’m from Indiana, and I’ve never been to the Indy 500,” Smith recounted through tears. “Two people carried the flag, and everyone chanted, ‘USA! USA!’ As I crossed that finish (line), I just started bawling that I was finishing the symbolic Boston Marathon at the Indy 500 in my home state.”
Smith also chairs UEA Staywell, a subcommittee of the Utica Education Association union. The group’s primary purpose is to promote wellness. As part of UEA Staywell, Smith directs the annual Halloween Hustle and Hoodie Hoo 5Ks.
The most recent race events, both held at Lake St. Clair Metropark, attracted nearly 2,200 participants and raised a total of $10,750 for Macomb County charities.
Michelle Schimelfening, an administrative assistant at the Instructional Resource Center in Sterling Heights and the UEA Staywell treasurer, said UEA Staywell has done a lot of good for the community.
“The idea is to get people out, let them have fun and get healthy,” Schimelfening said. “It’s competitive, but it’s not like some of those events with all the elites. We have first-timers to 80-year-old men.”
All of the money collected by the nonprofit group benefits local charities, she said, including the Macomb Food Program, 4 Paws 1 Heart, the Macomb Charitable Foundation and Growing Green Gardens, which gives young adults on the autism spectrum the opportunity to grow and sell plants and vegetables.
“Nancy is very driven. She’s determined to get it out there that people need help, we’re here to help, and this is how we do it,” Schimelfening said. “She’s a little dynamo.”
About the author
Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik covers Shelby Township and Utica for the Shelby-Utica News. Sarah has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2013 and attended Oakland University. She has won four Excellence in Journalism awards from the Detroit chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
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