I’m definitely not your typical triathlete – or endurance athlete of any kind. But I push myself as much as I can. …I’m having a good time, still doing well, and I’m just happy to be back here and looking forward to the race. —Darren Smith
Darren Smith didn’t know what he’d be able to do when he woke up from a surgery with paralysis in his left leg.
What he did know is that he wasn’t going to let anyone else dictate those limits.
“Part of it is my personality,” said Smith who will compete in this weekend’s XTERRA USA Championship off-road triathlon Saturday at Snowbasin. “And I also had people in my life who said, ‘If you don’t try, how are you going to know?’”
And that was enough.
The five-time Canadian paratriathlon champion and XTERRA region champion said he struggled with his new reality, but he channeled any negative feelings into finding ways to continue enjoying the sports he loved before he lost the ability to move one leg and feel the other.
“I think everybody goes through that,” he said of the questions, sadness and anger that come with a life-altering accident. “I have had those times where I’ve felt really bad, and one doctor even asked me if I wanted to be put on medication for depression. I said, ‘I’m not depressed. I’m (mad) that this happened.’ And I just never went down that road of using medication to deal with the situation. Athletics has always been the way I’ve gotten over things.”
Before his paralysis, he’d use a long bike ride or long run to untangle his mind and emotions.
He was determined to find a way to have that outlet, even if it meant being patient and creative.
The 49-year-old Portland resident said his wife and family were incredibly supportive of his efforts to find new ways to enjoy the outdoors. He’d just gotten into triathlons when a back surgery left him with paralysis in one leg and no feeling in the other.
He used a wheelchair most of the time, although when he participated in rehabilitation sessions, he used crutches.
“It was nobody’s fault, just bad luck,” he said. He had multiple people, including medical professionals, tell him that he’d never participate in triathlons again.
“Since then, I’ve done two Ironman races and four half Ironmans,” he said. “I guess I just like to prove people wrong.
Smith was looking forward to competing against four-time (and defending) Xterra National Champion Craig Vogtsberger, but an accident Friday morning won’t allow Vogtsberger to compete.
He hit his head, sustaining a concussion and laceration, that meant he was unable to drive to Utah for Saturday’s race. It was Vogtsberger, a veteran injured during a training exercise, who introduced Smith to the Allard braces that allow both men to compete in just about any sport they want. The carbon fiber orthodic braces hold their feet up while protecting their ankles and giving them the balance and agility necessary to run and bike.
Smith said he stopped putting pressure on himself in 2012. Now he just enjoys the event and pushing himself to his own limits.
“I’m definitely not your typical triathlete — or endurance athlete of any kind,” said the 6-foot-2, 220-pound man. “But I push myself as much as I can. I’m having a good time, still doing well and I’m just happy to be back here and looking forward to the race.”