Race director organized annual event in memory of brother
Kevin Smith has been involved in virtually every aspect of running, from being a retail shop owner to overseeing the timing for more than 11,000 events across the eastern United States.
His job as race director of the Sean T. Smith Memorial Just a Short Run, held every year since 2001 at North Park, holds a special place in his heart. He started the race in memory of his brother, who died of leukemia in 1995, and uses it to raise money and awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
In its first year the race drew about 450 runners. It now averages 1,100 to 1,200 per year and has raised $80,000 to $100,000 since the race started.
“Its peak was 2,400 runners and that was when the Pittsburgh Marathon wasn’t in existence,” Smith said. “When the marathon disappeared from 2003 to 2008, Just a Short Run grew exponentially. It stayed pretty good for about two years after but when the marathon exploded a lot of people shifted their training by four or five weeks so instead of training for our half they were training for the Pittsburgh half. So the numbers dropped a little, but the last four or five years we’ve hovered around 1,000 or 1,200. It’s a nice, steady race.”
The race started as a 5K and a half marathon, which covers a distance of 13.1 miles. In recent years they’ve added a 30K and an 8.1-mile race, which serves as the opportune distance for anyone training to run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in May. The 8.1-mile race has become the most popular, followed by the half marathon.
The terrain can be challenging, Smith said. Runners in the 5K, 8.1-mile and half-marathon start at the tennis courts and tackle the steepest hill in the first half-mile. It’s great training, however, for the rolling hills of the Pittsburgh Marathon and half marathon courses.
Temperatures are usually in the 40s to start and 50s to finish, but because it’s western Pennsylvania in late March, anything can happen.
“This race has had everything from 75 degrees at the finish to five or six years ago it was 6 degrees with wind chill,” Smith said.
For Smith, the best part of the day is seeing the excitement and anticipation on runners’ faces just prior to the start of the race. It’s a tremendous community event with overwhelming positive energy, he said.
That it honors his brother is even better. Sean Smith wasn’t a runner but a volleyball player who the day of his diagnosis faced off against two-time Olympic gold medalist Karch Kiraly in a beach volleyball tournament, Smith said.
Sean Smith fought the illness with fierce determination, and even participated in experimental treatments that helped shape the way patients are treated today.
“My family always looks at the positive that yes, we lost our younger brother but because of what he went through there’s a ton of people alive today,” Smith said. “It was a loss to us but he fought the good fight and gave other people a chance.”