South/East Xtra: At 80, Elizabeth man has a lot left in tank

RUNNING

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Age is just a number to Gehrett Smith.

An avid runner at 80 years old, Smith has a deep passion for competition and lives to challenge himself.

"I just love it," said Smith, who lives in Greenock, a section of Elizabeth Township near Mc-Keesport. "I don't know ... It's just something I've always done. I enjoy running and love to compete."

Smith represented Pittsburgh last month at the National Senior Games in Cleveland and brought home three gold medals. Competing in the 80-84 age division, Smith took first place in the 800-meter dash (3:31.46), 1,500-meter (7:20.91) and 10K (59:53) running events.

He was pleased with his time in the 800-meter event. Entering the preliminary heats, Smith realized he might have a chance to break the national record of 3:10.

"When I went out for that first lap, I saw my time was 1:15," Smith said. "That was probably my best pace. I was pushing myself and thinking of my son-in-law [Tawan Martinez] who is battling Stage 4 brain cancer. He was my motivation. I kept saying his name -- 'Tawan' -- over and over. I wanted that record for him."

Smith, however, fell a few seconds shy of meeting his goal.

A 1951 graduate of Wilkinsburg High School, Smith competed in the national event for the fifth time and has participated in the Keystone State Senior Games for 12 years.

"I was always a middle-of-the-pack runner until I got into my 50s," Smith said. "I started getting better then. I didn't do anything different or get faster. It was the other people who got slower."

Regularly competing in close to six races a year, Smith ran in the annual Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon in May and finished the full marathon race for the second consecutive year. He also plans to run in September's Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race.

"I've been running all my life," Smith said. "Way before running became popular, I was doing it. I've always pushed myself because I love to challenge myself."

Smith, however, has challenged himself just for fun.

In 1992 when he was 59, Smith was planning to visit his son, Eric, in Kansas City. Instead of driving or flying, Smith hopped on his 10-speed bicycle and began pedaling.

"I saw the weather was going to be good and decided to ride my bike," he said. "I did about 100 miles a day for nine-and-a-half days."

In the past, Smith also ran from Pittsburgh to Erie.

"He does these things on a whim," said his wife, Janet. "He sees the weather is going to be nice and just decides to go."

With good health on his side, Smith has already started thinking about the next National Senior Games that has been scheduled for Minneapolis in 2015.

"I won't tell you the last time he went to the doctor," Janet Smith said, joking. "It's been so long it's hard to remember. Even if I want him to go, he won't go."

And her husband won't even consider slowing up or retiring from running.

"Never," he said. "I don't have any arthritis in my knees or hips. I don't take any medication.

"As long as I can do it, I'm going to keep going."

sportsother


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