Inspiring Captain and His “Angels” to Complete Midwest 5 Marathon Challenge

Julie Bitely

| 4 min read

marathon angels
As a young boy, Matt Smith enjoyed watching his peers participate in athletic events, but his cerebral palsy kept him on the sidelines.
My Team Triumph (MTT) changed that in 2008, when Smith was then 11-years-old.
The non-profit organization provides racing opportunities for people with disabilities. Runners, known as angels, push their captains through road races ranging from 5Ks to marathons. Smith, who is now 18, was one of the group’s first captains and has competed in over 20 races with MTT.
It was during one of those races about two years ago that Smith confided to Terence Reuben, one of MTT’s founders, that he’d love to participate in the iconic Boston Marathon. Reuben and Smith have raced together many times and have developed a deep friendship over the years. Reuben quickly found out that getting into Boston wouldn’t be an option, but a bigger idea started to take shape in his mind, an epic adventure he could take on with his friend.
“Terence is always the man with the big ideas,” Smith joked.
One Marathon? Try Five!
With Boston off the table, Reuben proposed running five marathons in five states throughout 2015 and calling it the Midwest 5 Marathon Challenge. Smith, who considers Reuben a mentor and secondary father figure, was all in.
For his part, Reuben wanted to do something special for Smith, who has served as a “tireless spokesperson” for MTT.
“I wanted to give him something outside of what his normal life is like,” Reuben said.
The duo, along with other angels, have completed the first two races in the series, running the Glass City Marathon in Ohio and the Green Bay Marathon in Wisconsin. They’ll also take on the Sunburst Marathon in Indiana, the Fox Valley Marathon in Illinois, and the Metro Health Marathon in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help defray travel costs for the dynamic duo. Anything raised over what they need will go toward MTT or for something special for Smith, who will be attending Grand Valley State University in the fall to pursue secondary education studies.
Racing and Inspiring Together
Since MTT formed in Grand Rapids in 2008, the organization has expanded to more than 30 chapters in the United States, with one in Canada and one in the Netherlands. Close to 400 captains have completed races and Reuben estimates they’ve been pushed by somewhere between 800 to 1,000 angels. Captains range in age from elementary school children to adults in their 50s. They have a wide range of disabilities.
“The common thread with all of them is that they often admired what we were doing as athletes, but never felt they had the opportunity to do that,” Reuben said. “The race is all about the captains and what the captains get is a glimpse of what we take for granted as athletes.”
When Smith first started racing, he just wanted to go fast.
“As I’ve progressed in age, it’s not as much about speed, but about the people I meet on the road and the experience,” he said.
The captain’s name is marked on their chariot so that other runners and spectators can cheer for them as they go by. Reuben said people always want to offer encouragement and support to the runners serving as angels and that the captains get the star treatment as they make their way through the races they compete in.
“We do it to inspire people around us,” he said. “Someone is going to be inspired to do something for someone else.”
“It’s Been a Blast”
Smith said in a way, being born with cerebral palsy has made him a better person because he doesn’t take anything for granted. He knows there’s always someone who has it worse than he does. He also said people like Reuben and others who volunteer for My Team Triumph constantly inspire him to do more.
“That’s what keeps me pushing,” he said.
A recent graduate of Forest Hills Northern High School, Smith is inspiring in his own right. In 2012, he was presented with the AIM High Moving People Forward award for his inspiration to the local endurance community. He achieved the rank of Eagle Scout and most recently received the Congressional Medal of Merit.
At his high school graduation in May, Smith brought attendees to their feet when he ditched his power chair and walked across the stage to accept his diploma.
“I encourage people to keep pushing their limits,” he said.
If the three marathons he has yet to complete this summer are anything like the first two, Smith will continue to inspire and enjoy the ride.
“It’s been a blast,” he said.
If you’re inspired by Smith and Reuben’s story, there’s a GoFundMe page for donations here.
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