half-marathon challenge for Columbus senior

The first Mill Race Marathon didn’t slow him down. He handled 96 miles of the Hadrian’s Wall path in England without quitting and he conquered the 210-mile Wainwright Coast to Coast Walk, a 210-mile journey across Northern England.

Then came the baby stroller.

Columbus resident Andy Smithson was training in February along Boca Raton, Florida’s Ocean Drive, when his fitness training literally took a hit.

Walking along a wide trail in preparation for his planned hike of the Grand Loop of the Grand Canyon, Smithson saw three ladies running at him, one pushing an infant in a stroller.

That woman was pushing the stroller one-handed, and talking on a cellphone with her other hand.

“She was oblivious,” Smithson said.

Smithson quickly altered course to the side of the trail but kept his eyes on the stroller so they wouldn’t collide. He was successful in getting out of the way of the stroller, but he didn’t see a gash in the surface.

He fell, his left knee taking the brunt of the impact. As the three ladies kept jogging along, he knew his injury was serious.

He had fractured his patella and severed his patella tendon. Smithson was 75 at the time (he turned 76 on Aug. 4) and had to undergo a surgery that included “drilling, fiber cables and tendon repositioning and attachment.”

“I figured my walking days were over,” said the former CEO of Regal Rugs in North Vernon.

For Smithson, that would be a tragedy.

After retiring at age 62, Smithson decided he wouldn’t sit around “like a lump on a log.”

He went to Africa on safari, watched polar bears from a ship near the North Pole and went on challenging hikes such as the 115 miles he covered on the Michelson Trail in the Black Hills Region of South Dakota.

Among the events in his future was the third Mill Race Marathon on Sept. 26. He walked the half-marathon distance in the inaugural race and noted that it was “one heck of an event.”

He missed the second Mill Race Marathon event because he had other commitments, but he was going to be entered in the third, once again taking on the half-marathon.

Then his close encounter with the stroller threatened to change all that.

It wasn’t long, though, before Smithson’s competitive side took over.

“I’m here,” he said. “So it seems logical that I should want to walk (in the half-marathon).”

So he set a goal to do everything possible to complete those 13.1 miles.

After no activity in most of March and half of April, he started to work his way back.

“You hit an age where your muscles automatically shrink,” he said. “Because I was immobile, my (left) thigh was 2½ inches smaller than the other.”

When he returned to Columbus, Smithson asked his friend, Dr. Darryl Tannenbaum, about the recovery time for such as injury. He was told it could be as long as 18 months.

“I’m 76,” Smithson said. “I don’t have 18 months.”

Smithson plowed forward, doing a series of “pretty nasty exercises” which include strapping a five-pound weight on his left ankle and lifting his lower leg straight out, 45 repetitions. He also does squats and other exercises to develop his legs in a routine that takes about an hour.

“I am pretty darned tired by the end of it,” he said.

He was up to walking four miles by the end of July and was ready to stretch that distance to five miles.

“Then I will push it to eight miles,” he said. “If you can walk eight miles, you can do 13.”

Once he puts the Mill Race Marathon in the rear view mirror, he will start thinking about a hike through the Sonora Desert and Superstition Mountains in Arizona in February or March.

“This is going to slow me down,” he said. “But not stop me.

“I’m in a pretty good position in life in general. This is a bump in the road.”