School librarian headed to Hawaii for Ford Ironman World Championship triathlon
By Candace Sipos -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Tina Genay-Smith wasn't able to swim a complete lap until seven years ago.
"I used to not be able to get to the end of the pool," Genay-Smith said, noting that she could swim underwater but had trouble with using the proper strokes to stay above water.
But on Oct. 8, she will participate in her 26th triathlon, the Ford Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, where she will take a 2.4-mile swim in the Pacific Ocean, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.
Through years of persistence and many lessons through Frederick County Parks and Recreation, she was able to swim that complete lap and then some. That's the message she wants to send to her students at Garland R. Quarles Elementary School, where she has been a librarian for almost five years. This is her 19th year working for Winchester Public Schools, most of which she spent teaching second grade at Virginia Avenue Charlotte Dehart Elementary School.
"I'm hoping to inspire the kids just with resiliency about reading a chapter book and any aspect that they can bring to their lives ... and to dream and have a goal," Genay-Smith said. "At 12, it can seem so far-fetched, but if you keep working at it, it can become attainable."
The school community threw her a surprise day of support on Thursday, complete with a cake, Hawaiian music and teachers and children dressed in Hawaiian attire. A yellow lei hangs around a sign at the front door, which reads, "Countdown to Ironman: 10 Days."
In addition, each child was asked to complete a mile during recess in support of their librarian. That totals about 140 miles, which is how many miles she will have to finish in the triathlon. The school showed the same kind of spirit three years ago, when she ran the Boston Marathon.
"That support was just overwhelming," she said.
In July, Genay-Smith ran her first Ironman in Lake Placid, N.Y. Since that race, she has been raising money and donating it to the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which provides grants to athletes with disabilities, including injured veterans. She raised about $600 before Thursday, but she said the school community raised almost that much Thursday.
Ironman participants are given 17 hours to finish, and she completed the three stages in 13 hours and 22 minutes. Although she didn't place in the top three, which would have guaranteed her a position in the World Championship, she was chosen through a lottery system that picks 200 of the 2,000 overall participants. But according to one of her students, winning is not what's important.
"It's not about winning," said Brandon Ramirez-Martinez, 8. "It's about having fun."
Principal Jackie Ruff said she could notice the difference in the school community Thursday.
"It just uplifts everybody to have a focus and a goal," Ruff said.
Library assistant Linda Straight said she believes Genay-Smith is the right woman for the job.
"There couldn't be another person that is more hard-working and determined to take on something like that," Straight said.
Genay-Smith said she's not sure whether this race will bring her the same results as the triathlon in Lake Placid.
"So much could happen with your stomach and the wind ... humidity and the heat," she said. "You can go to a race being totally prepared, but you never know what can happen."