Kirk Smith, 52, is a triathlete and Athens native who was diagnosed with Stage III lung cancer on December 26, 2013. He has never smoked and has been very active all his life so the diagnosis was surprise, to put it mildly. His pathology showed that he has a genetic mutation, the ALK gene mutation (EML4-ALK). As of this article, he is being treated with a targeted therapy drug in capsule form called Zykadia, which was just FDA-approved on April 30 of this year. Kirk is married to Jayne Smith and is owner of The AdSmith, a graphic design, advertising, and web design firm located on Milledge Avenue. Despite his diagnosis, Kirk is still running, riding, swimming, lifting, and playing as much as possible and has Tri to Beat Cancer as a goal to push himself to get stronger.
In all fairness, the fifth Tri to Beat Cancer will not be his first. He has competed the four previous years, placing third overall the first year, and winning overall masters another. He originally began competing in triathlons in the early 2000s and always had to travel to the event. With Tri to Beat Cancer, finally he had a race in Athens, his hometown. Kirk says, “I love this race. It’s local, easy to get to. A honest and challenging course that really hurts if you push yourself. Sandy Creek Park is a terrific venue that I don’t think many people know about.”
“It’s fun to do a race with so many people that I know—either in the race or as volunteers and spectators. One thing I have always loved about triathlons is the support and camaraderie among the racers. We are all pushing as hard as we can on that day, but also encouraging each other and proud of others’ accomplishments when it’s done.” To make it to through the push Kirk suggests getting your transition area set up early so you can get a good swim warm-up completed to calm your nerves, get your body loose, and your aerobic system ready to race. “I think a 15-20 minute warm-up is critical to a good race.” Also, “Encourage the people around you. It’s amazing what that does for your own energy during a race.”
Though Kirk has dedicated previous races to the memory of his father, whom he lost to cancer in 2004, he is also encouraged by the stories of friends who are cancer survivors, and if he needs an extra motivational boost, he won’t have to look far: Team Kirk. Team Kirk is an informal group of Kirk’s supporters, friends, and family and you have probably seen their bumper stickers popping up all over Athens and the surrounding area. You’ve probably even wondered, “What is TK?!” Team Kirk is there to motivate and empower their friend to cross the finish line in this fifth Tri to Beat Cancer as a true Tri Hero.