Mercy Home Heroes Spotlight: Will Smith
It’s 4:30 a.m. on Father’s Day, and Will Smith is already dressed in his green and white Mercy Home Heroes singlet. In the pitch dark, he prepares to hit the road before the relentless Arizona sun awakens.
He isn’t just heading out for a quick jog – he’s going 26.2 miles – the last leg of a four-day running binge. It’s his own version of the Disney Dopey Challenge, and he’s dedicated it to raising money for the kids at Mercy Home for Boys & Girls.
The real Dopey Challenge takes place in Disney World. It consists of running a 5k, 10k, half marathon and a marathon in that order – 48.6 miles in four days. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith decided he’d do it on his own. The pandemic has propelled him to run more than he ever has.
Though he is still employed as a flight attendant with United Airlines, air travel experienced record-setting lows at the onset of the pandemic.
“Because they’ve cut so many flights from the schedule, there’s an excess number of us, like thousands of us, too many,” Smith said. “So basically, we’re getting paid to stay at home.”
Smith has been using running to fill the void in the normally busy schedule to which he was accustomed. It’s a passion that was sparked by a desire to bond with his son.
When his son got involved in cross country and track, Smith started running with him. Eventually, he started completing short races. Because United Airlines is a sponsor of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, he began to explore the idea of running 26.2 miles.
Of the potential marathons to which he could win entry, Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal, topped his list. As fate would have it, he won an entry and packed his bags for Portugal.
Smith went into that marathon in October 2017 with the goal of finishing in under four hours. He was cruising until Mile 16 when the reality of the marathon set in and he started to cramp up. Though he finished with a solid time of 4 hours and 13 minutes, missing his goal inspired him to keep going.
“I’m not sure I would have ran another one had I accomplished all my goals that day,” he said. “So it was kind of a blessing in disguise.”
With his newfound stamina, Smith continued to run long distances as he traveled the world. On layovers abroad, he has run 10 to 15 miles in places such as Amsterdam, Brussels, London and Rome. Back in the U.S. he continued to enter marathons, and in Savannah, Georgia in November 2018, he crushed his goal of a sub four-hour marathon with a finishing time of 3:30:34.
In between, in the spring of 2018 after completing a half marathon in Indiana, Smith met Mercy Home Heroes Coordinator Jim Harding. The Bank of America Chicago Marathon had already been on Smith’s radar, and a conversation with Harding sealed the deal. In 2019, he became a Hero for the kids at Mercy Home and added Chicago to the list of cities he has conquered by foot.
“There’s no comparison between Chicago and the rest,” Smith said. “it was the most fun I’ve ever had racing.”
“Just the crowds and hearing your name called from Mile 1 to Mile 26 – it’s just insane. It was so much fun. You don’t even realize until Mile 20 that your body is starting to hurt.”
Hearing your name called from Mile 1 to Mile 26 – it’s just insane. It was so much fun. You don’t even realize until Mile 20 that your body is starting to hurt.
Smith enjoyed the race and his experience as a Hero so much that it only took him a week to sign up to do it again the following year. And even though the 2020 Chicago Marathon has been canceled, Smith is continuing to run and challenge himself to raise money for our kids.
On Day 1 of his Dopey Challenge, he set a personal record for a 5k at 20 minutes and 57 seconds. Then, to cap it off, he spent Father’s Day morning running a marathon – the hobby that blossomed from bonding with his son. And when he crossed his own personal finish line, he added another sub four-hour marathon to his list and had raised more than $500 for Mercy Home.
As far as the back-to-back days of running, Smith says the Dopey Challenge was the hardest thing he has done. Now, it’s on to the next goal: completing 26.2 miles for the kids at Mercy Home on October 10. For Smith, running has become almost a way of life, a way to continually push himself.
“I enjoy the challenge of it, the competition,” he said. “That’s what drives me more than anything.”