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Running as an Amputee
At thirty-three-years-old, Sidney Smith was recovering from having both of his feet amputated and was wheelchair-bound when he discovered the IronMan competition. Despite being an athlete, he had never heard of IronMan, the pinnacle of long distance marathons that combines cycling, swimming and running. As Sidney watched athletes on the television competing at the highest level of the sport, he promised himself that he, too, would someday join them.
“When I was in the hospital between therapy sessions, I realized I wanted to run. I saw the IronMan on TV and that motivated me. My ultimate goal was to do an IronMan, but I knew first I had to simply learn to run,” Sidney explains.
Sidney’s family and friends urged caution. Concerned that the Vernal, Utah, resident could be setting himself up for failure, they pointed out that he had never been a runner. Sure, he grew up swimming competitively through college and cycled for fun as a boy. But running was another story entirely. He tuned out the doubts and, with new walking prosthetics, finished his first 5K five months later. “I wasn’t very fast. Walkers on the course could easily pass me,” he remembers.
Instead of being discouraged, he finished the race determined to do more. Five and a half months after surgery and two weeks after that race, Sidney finished his first triathlon. Sidney recalls his thinking at that time: “People thought my goal of completing a triathlon was crazy. But for me it was one more step toward my bigger goal of doing an IronMan.”
Sidney’s ambition caught the attention of Amputee Blade Runners, an organization out of Nashville, Tenn., that provides free running prostheses to athletes. Most insurance does not cover specialty prosthetic devices, which can cost upwards of $30,000. Sidney’s devices featured Click Medical’s RevoFit Kits with adjustable panels designed to fit over his bulbous residual limbs. When his limbs lose volume during runs, his prosthetic legs can easily be tightened with the RevoFit Kit. Sidney also has a unique pylon that allows him to quickly change his running blades to cycling cleats. “The RevoFit system allows me to quickly put on my prosthetics every day, but the game changer has been the ability to quickly tighten up the fit to accommodate lost volume during a run, and then quickly loosen it again as needed,” he says.
Losing his feet had long been a potential reality. At age twelve, doctors diagnosed Sidney with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), a progressive genetic degenerative disease that causes deformities of the extremities. Though his living relatives do not have CMT, the disease can skip generations, and the family suspects that Sidney’s great grandfather, John Brinkerhoff, suffered from it. An English immigrant, Brinkerhoff traveled by wagon across the great plains, writing in his diary that he rode in the wagon for the entire distance because he couldn’t walk, possibly because he had CMT.
As a teenager and into his twenties, Sidney underwent several corrective surgeries to alleviate pain and allow him to continue to walk. Doctors told Sindey’s parents that he would eventually lose the use of his legs, but they spared their son that grim prognosis, for which he remains grateful. Stuart, Sidney’s dad, strove to give his son a fairly normal childhood.
I Could Finally Move Forward with my Life
In 2015, when the surgeries and braces were no longer helpful, Sidney opted to have both feet amputated. “It was scary at first as I did not know any other amputees, but it was also a relief,” he recalls. “I felt I could finally move forward.” Wanting to get on with life and support his family, Sidney returned to work while he was still in his wheelchair. His grit, perseverance and work ethic was recognized by the Governor of Utah, who honored Sidney with the ACE award in 2017.
It would take thousands of hours of training and the unwavering support of his wife, Lori, to get Sidney to the finish line of his first half IronMan (70.3 K) in St. George, Utah on May 6, 2017. Fast forward to November 2, 2019, four years after his legs were amputated, and Sidney accomplished his first full IronMan (140.6 miles) in Florida.
“I will never forget how it felt to cross that line,” Sidney said. “Crossing the finish line felt like a dream come true, my mind literally went through the whole journey from sitting in the hospital bed to now coming down the chute. The greatest feeling came from actually realizing that my children will remember this and that the lesson is that you can do anything you want despite your setbacks or challenges.”
Life remains full for Sidney. With three daughters and a son involved in running meets and soccer games, family camping trips and his full time job as an internet provider account executive, Sidney has scaled his training back to an hour a day. At the moment he is looking forward to climbing Utah’s 11,752 ft Mount Timpanogos, and hunting season this fall. Sidney will be guiding a big game hunt for, Disabled Outdoorsmen Utah, a non-profit he founded, which introduces amputees and people with impairments to hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and even scuba diving. He recently coached a fellow amputee, a police officer who lost his leg in a lawn mower accident, through running his first triathlon. “Some people get up in the morning and put on their contact lenses. I get up and put on my feet. I’m really not all that different,” Sidney says.
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