Sixteen years after his death, Gary Smith still is leading students across the finish line and through life's challenges.
This year's Gary Smith Worthington Classic five-mile run/three-mile walk will begin at 9 a.m. Sunday, June 8, at Thomas Worthington High School and wind through the streets of Worthington.
The event is being organized by former students of the popular teacher and coach and by people who have come to know about Smith and his teachings as they are passed along to new generations.
The classic also will raise money for three scholarships to help students achieve the potential in which Smith was known to believe.
Smith taught English and occupational work study (now called Career-Based Intervention Program) at Thomas Worthington, where he also coached championship cross country and track teams.
According to his widow, Nicole Gnezda, Smith always championed the underdog and was always there to encourage and stand by his students.
"He taught English students to think, at-risk students life and work skills, athletes to be self-aware and strive for personal bests," Gnezda said.
The classic was started because he cared about hearts, not just achievements, she said.
The winner of this year's Career-Based Intervention Program scholarship is Nick Donahue, who said he plans to use his scholarship to pay fees at Columbus State Community College to help fulfill his dream of owning one of the best franchises in town, Gnezda said.
Recipients of this year's athletics scholarships are Steve Withers and Chandler Adamaitis.
Withers understands the connection between leadership and serving others and is a "humble, charismatic and respected leader," said Julie King, Thomas Worthington assistant principal.
In her winning essay, Adamaitis said coach Smith's works have helped her understand the "difference between a good attempt and true hard work fueled by the heart."
The athletes must submit essays based on two of Smith's core beliefs. He encouraged athletes to be involved in a sport not just for their own achievements but also for the good of others, so the first essay is about leadership.
The second essay asks students to reflect on Smith's often-quoted statement: "Run as hard as you can; then let your heart take you the rest of the way."
"He would be happy to know that when he could run no longer, the messages from his heart have continued to guide and inspire young people," Gnezda said.
The classic begins at 9 a.m. for runners and 9:05 for walkers.
Register online at fleetfeetcolumbus. com/events/gary-smith-worthington-classic.
Entry fee for the five-mile run is $25. For the three-mile walk, it is $20.
The event is sponsored by Gary Smith Race & Charities, in conjunction with Worthington Department of Parks and Recreation, Big Green Head and Healthy Worthington.