After nearly 17 grueling hours of swimming, biking and running, Scotty Smiley got some well-deserved rest Sunday night.
He couldn’t ignore the aches and pain in his body Monday morning, but he was proud of the reason why.
“I woke up an Ironman today! Grateful for all the love and support,” Smiley said in a tweet.
His completion of the Ironman Coeur d’Alene — just 12 minutes shy of the official cut-off time and in record-breaking 105 heat — is accomplishment enough.
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But for the Pasco native who was blinded 10 years ago by a suicide car bomber in Iraq, finishing the event helps him show others that goals can be achieved if they set their mind to it, train hard and don’t give up.
“Everyone has issues and difficulties and struggles, but it’s looking past those,” Smiley told the Herald. “Yeah, I am a disabled person. I used to be very normal ... but when my eyesight was taken from me, it put me into a mental category where I felt lesser than everybody else.”
He acknowledges that his wife Tiffany, their families and friends, the community and his faith in God give him the strength to keep going, no matter what challenge is before him.
“I don’t like being an example, but I think God has put me in a position that he’s using me for his glory. And I just hope to continue being a good example for those around me and doing my part,” Smiley said. “If you set your mind to it, you can accomplish anything no matter what your disability.”
Tiffany and Scotty met as kids in Pasco, graduated from Pasco High School in 1999 and got married in 2003. Two years later, Smiley lost the use of both eyes in an explosion in Mosul triggered by a suicide bomber.
He became the Army’s first blind active-duty officer, retiring on May 24 as a major.
Over the past decade, he has surfed, skydived, skied, completed triathlons and climbed Mount Rainier. In 2010, while commanding a company of wounded soldiers at West Point’s Keller Army Medical Center, he published the book Hope Unseen with co-author Doug Crandall.
Now that he is a civilian, Smiley is focusing on public speaking while spending time at home in Spokane with their sons: Grady, 8; Graham, 6; and Baylor, 2.
When the subject of an Ironman event would come up in years past, Smiley said he would think, “That’s ridiculous. Why would someone want to do that to their body?”
However, Smiley was struck with the desire to do something new about a year ago, so he asked brother-in-law Andy Cooper, who already had competed in an Ironman.
Smiley signed up under the “physically challenged” category, and Cooper was able to register as his guide. They got serious about training in January and, though Smiley had his doubts and considered withdrawing, his loved ones kept him focused.
Early Sunday, the event started with the 2.4-mile swim in Lake Coeur d’Alene. Cooper swam behind and would tap Smiley’s lower left leg if he need to turn left, doing the same with the right side.
Then came 112 miles on a tandem street bike, with Smiley taking the back seat. He said it is a lot heavier and slower than a normal triathlon bike, so the partners had to stay hydrated and fueled so they could get through the hilly course.
Cooper was close to suffering from heat exhaustion the last 30 miles of the ride, so Smiley said he prayed for his brother-in-law and helped him to push through. Then, when Smiley’s body was overheating during the 26.2-mile run and he was so miserable he was ready to quit, it was Cooper’s turn to help motivate his partner. The two now were connected by about six inches of surgical tubing that looped around their wrists.
Race officials also reportedly let Tiffany Smiley bike out to them so she could tell her husband, “You’re not doing this for yourself, you’re doing this for those who can’t be here and those who are still hurting,” he recalled. He knew he had to keep fighting, no matter how slow they went.
They ran the last-quarter mile into the finisher’s chute, where Smiley said the cheering from family, friends and fans was so loud he couldn’t hear anything. He said he started to cry, then smiled and waved as people yelled, “You are an Ironman!”
Smiley finished in 16 hours, 48 minutes and 25 seconds, and 1,291 overall, according to the event’s website.
“It’s crazy to say but it’s a life journey. You have to work, and yes there’s work, there’s sorry and trials,” he said. “But you have to push through and in the end you will be able to finish the race.”