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VERNAL — Sidney Smith is a father of four, a double amputee, and a tri-athlete.
Sidney Smith, 35, was born with a degenerative nerve disease called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder leaving his feet deformed.
At age 12, he relied on braces and surgeries to improve his situation. However, his condition continued to grow worse late into his 20s. Sidney Smith said his bones and calf muscles started to wither away.
“My ankles would roll and where my heel was is now where my ankle was,” he said.
Sidney Smith tried everything. However, surgeries and braces were no longer helping him.
Although Sidney Smith wanted to live an active lifestyle, his wife, Lori Smith, said he was never able to do anything like play football or basketball.
"The amount of pain he had to deal with on a daily basis was just crazy!” she said.
The doctors gave him two options: fuse his ankles, which would likely require him to be a wheelchair the rest of his life, or amputation.
Sidney Smith said it was quite the shocker when the doctor said, “Well you have the option to do prosthetics and amputate.”
Lori Smith said her jaw just dropped and she was speechless. She wanted to make sure amputation was the best option on the table before committing.
As a young father and provider to his family, Sidney Smith was concerned about his future ability to play with his kids, keep a job, and live a mobile life. But his condition had become so bad he could barely even walk without pain.
Ironically, Sidney Smith realized amputation was the obvious answer to give him the freedom to move.
After some research, Sidney Smith said he thought, “This is a decent chance compared to what I’ve had to deal with the rest of my life.”
He decided to amputate each leg one at a time. After his first surgery in January 2015, Sidney Smith experienced a complication when his leg became infected.
In November 2015, Sidney Smith had reconstructive surgery on the infected leg he decided to amputate the other.
As he sat in a hospital bed post-op about three and a half years ago, Sidney Smith set a new goal.
“On TV they had the Ironman championship and I just felt inspired that if I were to get out of this hospital bed, that that’s something I want to try for,” he recounted.
Although it was still painful, Sidney Smith quickly learned how to walk with his new prosthetics.
“It took me a while to get the hang of walking and not feeling the sensation of the ground,” he said.
As soon as the stitches from his surgery healed up, Sidney Smith started getting in the pool to start exercising again. Within just a few months Sidney Smith was swimming, biking, and even running — something he always longed to do, but never could because of his condition.
“For me, running was something that I’ve always wanted to do, but could never do as a kid. So now that I have that gift, it’s something that I think about all the time,” he said.
Sidney Smith worked his way up from competing in a 5k race to a half Ironman.
He explained competing in distance races, “pushes your body to where you can’t go much further and your mind is what takes you to that next level."
"When you take that mental strength to that next level, you realize that you are in full control of yourself,” Sidney Smith said.
Today, Sidney Smith and his buddy, AJ Rimmasch, are training for a full Ironman. They have a plan to train about 15 hours each week leading up to the competition.
“As a training partner, he’s a huge inspiration to me," Rimmasch said. "I’ve told him many times he makes me want to be better and work harder because he is working hard and being better.”
They start training around 5 a.m. each morning. “There’s times I don’t want to get up. I want to sleep in and he will call me and say, ‘Are we biking tomorrow?’” Rimmasch admitted.
Rimmasch said people come up to Sidney Smith at races and say, “Hey, if Sidney can do this, I think I can do this too.”
However, Rimmasch also encourages Sidney Smith as well. “Luckily I have a good buddy that would train with me and push me and convince me that it was something I could do. It just surprises me what things I can be capable of.” Sidney Smith said.
Sidney Smith is also a member of Intermountain Healthcare’s tri-team where he mentors other athletes — some who are also amputees, and others who are not.
When you take that mental strength to that next level, you realize that you are in full control of yourself.
He uses social media to share pointers with other athletes from previous mistakes he’s made during training. Most importantly, Sidney Smith encourages others to not give up.
“Every day is going to be a progress even if you are having a failure of a day,” he said.
Sidney Smith said today he is doing things he didn’t think would ever be possible. He can hike, hunt, and fish in places that he couldn’t go to when he was a kid because of his condition.
Lori Smith said she is proud of her husband. “He’s taken a situation that he didn’t have any control over, and he did the best that he could with the situation he was given,” she said.
Sidney Smith said it’s simple.
“I believe a lot of excuses out there are pretty much our own limiting beliefs… Believe in yourself and work forward,” he said.
Intermountain Healthcare’s tri-team holds weekly bike, run, and swim clinics. They also offer race-day support and personal mentoring from seasoned athletes like Sidney Smith. Visit Intermountaintri.com to learn more about joining the team.