An accident that left Jennifer Smith partially paralyzed hasn’t stopped her from entering into triathlons almost every weekend.
The Huntsville resident and Hartselle native competed in triathlons regularly before a truck struck her during her Tuesday morning bike ride on Redstone Arsenal in July 2014.
Smith suffered a spinal cord injury and a traumatic brain injury. She spent almost three months in the hospital and six months in a back brace. She was wearing proper lighting and a helmet, which she believes saved her life.
Two years later, Smith was back competing in triathlons despite having to use a walker. Smith and her husband, Tim, were two of 210 competitors in the 19th annual Wet Dog Triathlon at Point Mallard Park on Saturday.
“The people drew me back in. Some of my best friends do these races,” Jennifer said. “I get to somewhere, have fun and get some exercise and spend a day in the sun with my friends.”
Jennifer, 44, competed in just the swim and biking portion of the race. Tim Smith did all three events, finishing with a time of 1:28.54. The two met after Jennifer’s accident and married three years ago.
During the Wet Dog Triathlon, Tim helped Jennifer use her walker to get down the hill where the bikes were located. He then helped her get situated on her bike before he got on his own and took off.
Tim helps Jennifer each race and is continuously inspired by her willingness to compete in races.
“When people find her and hear her story, they just say 'wow',” Tim said. “I think people see her and how she uses a walker but still does it and think they can do it, too.”
Jennifer’s paralysis affects her from the knees down. She has feeling in her knees, but nothing below that.
She relearned how to swim without using her feet and started learning how to ride a recumbent bike, which is a bike that places the rider in a laid-back reclining position. She’s still a part of the Fleet Feet triathlon team in Huntsville. She even coaches other athletes through Fleet Feet.
Jennifer recently had to take a break from most physical activity after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in March. She had two lumpectomies and will undergo radiation treatments. Doctors caught her cancer early after she went in for a mammogram.
Before she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Tim and Jennifer went to Australia to work with researcher Ken Ware, who founded NeuroPhysics Therapy. The gym-based treatments are an experimental form of therapy that uses tremors to help remedy spinal cord injuries.
Jennifer made great progress while in Australia. She was able to go from sitting to standing unassisted and even took steps without the use of her walker.
“If one thing fails, she always tries another,” Tim said. “She doesn’t even consider herself as an inspiration, which shows what kind of person she is. She’s just amazing.”
Every day she continues to try to make progress while improving on her biking and swimming times. Since she started again in 2016, her bike speed has gone up from 6 miles per hour to 12 miles per hour. She won't stop there, however.
She wants to one day get back to running. Running is what got her into the sport originally. Jennifer’s main short-term goal is a half-ironman, which is a longer-distance version of a triathlon.
For now, she believes she can be a symbol for those who don’t know whether or not they can compete in a triathlon.
“I hope I’m sending a message that if I can do it, anybody can do it,” Jennifer said. “I’m always last, but I don’t care because I’m always out here doing it. It’s about the fun of it.”