14 years to the day, Classic will honor beloved teacher, coach
Everything about the Gary Smith Worthington Classic is done with heart, just the way Gary Smith would have wanted it.
From the spirit of camaraderie among the runners and walkers to charities that benefit from the proceeds, the annual event reflects the values of the beloved former teacher and coach.
Adding to the poignancy of the race this year is the fact that it will be held June 10, exactly 14 years after Smith's death from pancreatic cancer.
The 5-mile run and 3-mile walk will begin at 9 a.m. in front of Thomas Worthington High School, where Smith taught and coached. Both events will follow a route through the streets of Worthington Estates, past the home where Smith lived and along the Olentangy bikeway.
A registration booth also will be set up on the Village Green during the Memorial Day parade.
The Classic usually attracts serious runners, many former students of Smith and people who are attracted by the atmosphere of the event.
"What I like about the race is the feeling of joy to be there," said Nicole Gnezda, Gary Smith's widow.
Smith's friends and former students started the Classic after getting their ideas together during a celebration of life following Smith's death in 1998.
The race would not have become a reality, though, without the financial support of three men and their companies who will be recognized this year. They are John McConnell of Worthington Industries, Pete Kight of CheckFree and Mike Glasser of Greif Brothers.
Gnezda said she wants to make sure to thank the small contributors, too. She also is pleased to welcome back disabled racers from the Heart of Ohio chapter of myTeamTriumph, she said. The racers, called "captains," are pushed in specially designed wheelchairs by their "angels."
The young racers would have no other way of experiencing a race, and the joy in their faces as they cross the finish line makes it all worthwhile, Gnezda said.
Race managers of the 2012 Classic are Jeff and Andy Henderson, former runners on Smith's teams. Jeff manages Fleet Feet Columbus. He is bringing to this year's race chip timing, which allows runners' times to be recorded without using stopwatches. The advancement will be meaningful to experienced runners, Gnezda said.
Proceeds from the Classic fund annual scholarships for Worthington high school students and help with contributions to organizations that support young people with serious illnesses or disabilities, including Nationwide Children's Hospital and myTeamTriumph.
As both a teacher and coach, Smith's passion was directed toward students who struggled physically, emotionally or academically, Gnezda said.
Though his track and cross-country teams won many state championships, he worked with and cheered for the "also-rans" as much as he did his champions, she said.
"It was about each and every kid," Gnezda said.