Outrunning the Past

By Elisabeth Lively

Layout and Design Editor

Three hours, 58 minutes, 12 seconds and 26 miles later, tears streamed down Jessica Smith’s face as she crossed the finish line. Spectators cheered and applauded her efforts to complete a task that many runners have never experienced.

After training for 16 weeks, Smith packed her bags, boarded an airplane and flew to Massachusetts to run in the 2019 Boston Marathon along with 32,000 other runners.

“Magical,” Smith said. “That’s the only way I can describe it.”

For the 42-year-old, running the marathon was more than just a sport, it was a tribute to the hundreds of bystanders and runners that were either killed or injured in the 2013 Boston bombing.

Smith explained that she often found herself crying during the marathon, remembering the tragedies that had happened on that very day, six years earlier.

“I thought about that moment [and] the people,” Smith said. “Not just the people who were necessarily injured, but the people who were around. Kind of everyone whose lives were changed that day either because they lost a loved one, or someone was injured, or they were there and witnessed all that. So, it was emotional.”

But running one of America’s biggest marathons was not her only accomplishment. For Smith, success came in more ways than one. Although it didn’t start out that way.

At the age of 31, a health magazine convinced Smith to get into better shape by changing her diet and exercise habits. By 33, a recurrence of childhood events and memories caused Smith to suffer from severe anxiety to the point of being unable to leave her home, let alone go for a run.

“Because of my fear, I had quit running,” Smith said. “My doctor said the only thing that was going to make me better is if I was going to put my running shoes back on, which was really scary, because that meant being out in an uncontrolled environment. But I did it, slowly and surely, and got back to running, got off all my medication and got stronger.”

After getting back on her feet, Smith opened a gym in Quitman called Rock Solid Fitness, with her business partner, Brook Rogers. Not only does Smith run the gym, but she is also a personal trainer and nutrition coach to her clients.

However, she inspires more than just the gym’s clientele.

It was motherhood that taught Smith that she needed to turn her life around to ensure her daughter didn’t have to walk the same path she faced.

“Be comfortable being uncomfortable,” Smith said. “I think that’s kind of how I live my life too because there’s things that scare you, and you don’t want to do it just because it’s out of your box, out of your comfort zone. But that’s where the magic happens.”

After getting pregnant at 16, Smith dropped out of school to raise her daughter.

“I knew that that would be the only way I could really take care of her and be the one raising her,” Smith said, “and not me being at school and her being at daycare, and someone else taking care of her at night while I was working.”

After working two different jobs for some time, she found a full-time job working as a veterinary technician, where she met her husband, Jeremy.

“I’ve gotten to see this from the beginning and to watch her go through all of the struggles and all of the hard work that she’s done,” Smith’s husband said. “And it’s just amazing to see her complete this journey and this dream that she’s had.”

Because she did not completed high school, Smith never had the opportunity to walk across the stage and accept her diploma, however, she received her GED at 19. And although a friend framed the diploma for her, Smith never hung it on the wall. It just wasn’t enough.

Smith said she would often browse Northeast Texas Community College’s website, looking at courses and programs. Once she saw the new Human Performance curriculum, she knew the time had come to continue her education.

“It’s pretty much taking all of my certifications, and giving me a degree,” Smith said.

Smith will graduate with her associates degree this month, although she’s debating whether or not she wants to keep moving forward in her education. While she would like to expand her business, she has her eye on a masters degree, in which she would teach kinesiology on a university level. But teaching junior high PE is another option on her table.

Smith’s 43-year journey has been long and windy, but every curve she faces just builds her up.

“We’ve been married almost 20 years and as I look back over the course of time, I’ve gotten to see her blossom into what she is now,” Jeremy Smith said. “Not that she wasn’t an amazing person then, but it was so hidden that through the 20 year marriage that we’ve had and the struggles and the trails and all of the things and support that she’s given me in raising our daughters, I don’t know any other thing to say but amazing. She’s strong, she’s tough, she never lets anything stand in her way, and I’m just glad that she is my partner in life.”

Smith has faced a multitude of trials in her life, and there are even more to come. But her confidence assures her that no mountain is too big and no race is too long.

“My motto right now is ‘Do hard things’ because that’s what it takes to get where I want to be…” Smith said. “I feel like I still have so much life to live. I’ve already lived a lot, but I think I have so much more to live. And ever decade just gets better… My thirties were good and my forties have been pretty flipping awesome so far.”