Sault Stryders
Running Club

St. Joe's architect
Reported August 13, 2011 by Michael Purvis for The Sault Star
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

When Sherri Smith ran her last real triathlon in 2005, she had no idea it would be her finale.

In hindsight, there was something "a bit poetic," in the fact that it was at the race she founded, the St. Joseph Island Triathlon.

"That was the last race I've ever run, in earnest," said Smith, 35. "I actually ran it hard and I was in good shape and I thought my triathlon career would continue."

Smith, for the last eight years, has co-ordinated the annual swim, bike, run event on St. Joseph Island, and Saturday's race will be no different. That the race's beginnings correspond roughly with the end of Smith's career as an elite athlete is hardly a coincidence.

Smith was the definition of elite athlete, having risen from competitive distance running in high school and university to joining Canada's elite triathlon development team just three years after she got into triathlons.

Smith was named the city's 2004 sportsperson of the year, having won the 25-29-year-old division at the world triathlon championships in Madeira, Portugal. The same year, she was named Canadian Age Group Female Triathlete of the Year.

After that last triathlon in 2005 on St. Joseph Island, Smith said she was tired, so she decided to take the rest of the year off, fully expecting to come back the next season to compete at the national and international level.

"But I never came back the next year," she said.

The increasing demands of the sport, both financially and on her schedule, made it difficult to continue, cutting short Smith's Olympic dream. Organizing the St. Joe's event was itself putting big demands on Smith's time, and was part of the reason she stopped racing competitively, though she said she doesn't regret it now.

Athletes often lament the struggle to descend gracefully from the pinnacle of a sport, and Smith said it hasn't been easy for her either.

"I think whenever you're at an elite level you need a bit of time to distance yourself between where you were an elite and where you settle into being an age-grouper, and I think that's a unique experience to elite athletes," said Smith.

She's taking that time now, concentrating her efforts on running the St. Joseph Island event, and, hopefully this fall, training to get into marathons.

"I just had a baby (boy) in March, so I hope by the fall I'll be running some higher mileage and maybe gearing up for next year doing a couple marathons and just seeing how I do," she said.

While she won't be back at the elite level, she said she's an " all or nothing," person, so you can expect her to be competing at the highest level she can.

And she hasn't given up on triathlon.

She's concentrating on marathons right now because training for one takes a third of the time commitment triathlon training does, but she said her goal is to make her way back to competitive racing, likely over the next five years, by which time she should be, " a pretty mean age-group triathlete."

"Athletics never die, I don't think. They just take different forms," said Smith.