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When Lone Tree resident Dean Smith, 91, had to stop running at the age of 75 because of the stress on his joints, he wasn't upset or discouraged.
After a lifetime of competing in sports of all kinds, Smith just switched to a sport that was easier on his joints — rowing. He joined the Rocky Mountain Rowing club at the age of 80, and recently brought home the gold medal in his age group at the World Indoor Rowing Championship Feb. 18 in Alexandria, Virginia.
“I love to compete,” said Smith. “I've always been an extremist, and if I'm going to do something I'm going to be the best at it. That's why I've never been a drinker.”
Smith and his wife Priscilla moved to Lone Tree nine years ago from Oakbrook, Illinois, and Smith immediately began looking for opportunities to compete. He fell in love with competing while in high school, where he ran track and played basketball and football. Smith is a Bradley University Sports Hall of Fame member for his track achievements at the school in Peoria, Illinois.
After marrying Priscilla and having three children in four years, Smith stopped running after college, because, he said, there were no organized sports past the college experience. After several attempts at various careers, Smith became involved in the nutritional company Shaklee, which changed his life.
“I'd tried at many careers, and failed quite well,” he said. “But with Shaklee, it was something I could believe in. I've always tried to live a healthy life, and being an athlete, it was a good match for me personally and professionally.”
Smith returned to competing in his 40s to demonstrate the importance of nutrition, and has competed all over the world, including Amsterdam, Germany, Sweden and Croatia. The world Indoor Rowing Championship included more than 2,400 athletes competing from 34 countries, with competitors ranging in age from 14 to 91.
Grace Malacrida is a rowing coach for the Mile High Rowing Club, based in Greenwood Village, and has known Smith since he began rowing in Colorado.
“He impressed everyone in the rowing community,” said Malacrida. “He just doesn't back down. It's pretty inspiring to know you can start a new sport at any age.”
Priscilla Smith said she has always supported her husband's efforts.
“He kind of reminds me of the firehouse dog,” said Priscilla. “He hears a bell and he's ready to compete.”
Smith admits that not having an upcoming competition makes it harder for him stay motivated, and he does slack off on his workouts a little when between competitions. He and his wife work out several days a week in the basement of their condo, and rely on proper nutrition to stay healthy. Smith said he doesn't take any medication, and is always looking forward to the next competition.
“I'm not a sore loser," he said, "but I don't like to lose, and I don't lose often."
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