Patriots’ track coach leads by example
June 30, 2009
By Jim Feehan
A little more than 30 years ago, Michael Smith loaded his running shoes and his other earthly belongings into a pint-sized Honda 600 car and moved to Seattle from his San Francisco Bay-area home.
He never moved back to the city by the bay and the two-cylinder, 36-horsepower micro car bit the dust decades ago.
In the past three decades, Smith has made quite a name for himself in the local running community after winning several Cougar Mountain Trail series and other races. Smith, who coaches the Liberty High School track and cross country teams, can hold his own with runners half his age.
Fresh out of high school, a friend suggested Smith enroll at Highline Community College.
“He said, ‘It’s really green up here and you really have to come here,” Smith said.He participated on the school’s track and cross country teams. He also competed at the University of Idaho and later decided to give running a chance as a career.
A few elite runners in the U.S. have the sponsors and employer backing to make a living out of running, but Smith didn’t see that in his future.
“I saw no payday in sight and there was not a lot of incentive to continue to be a running bum,” he said. “There are three kinds of bums, you know: ski bums, surfer bums and running bums.”
To continue running, Smith held a variety of jobs, including selling cars and working at a nursery. Amid the Douglas firs and noble pines, Smith had an epiphany.
“I got to thinking, there’s got to be a better way to make a living than dipping trees in green paint,” he said.
So, at age 25, Smith enrolled at Whitworth College in Spokane. He ran as a member of the team’s track and cross country teams while pursuing a degree in business.
“Runners from nearby Mead High School wanted me to go out partying with them,” he said. “I told them no, that I had a wife to go home to. I also told them, ‘I don’t want to buy you beer.’”
After graduating from Whitworth, Smith moved to Renton and went to work for the Boeing Co.
Five years ago, he began coaching the Liberty track and cross country teams. Liberty’s track team had 13 athletes qualify for this year’s track meet at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.
“That’s an unprecedented amount of athletes going to state from Liberty,” said Steve Bice, father of Eric Bice, who placed fifth in the 1,600-meter race at state. “He leads by example. He’s not some fat guy up there in the bleachers asking his athletes to run four more laps.”
Smith said athletes like Bice make him look like a better coach.
“It wasn’t me,” Smith said. “I had a kid who did the things you asked him to do.”
Reach Reporter Jim Feehan at 392-6434, ext. 239, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.