BY SHARON SAMUEL
“I went in and signed up. I was the 250-pound smoker who took up running. About a year after that I became the assistant manager of the (Running Room) and now I am the area manager for the company,” said Barry Smith. “I quit smoking, dropped weight and I have run a marathon. I tell everybody that, if I can do this, anybody can do it.”
Smith was 14 when he first started smoking. He thought it was to cool to be a smoker and to hang out at the bleachers of his high school. When he went to Fanshawe College in London, Ont., people could smoke in hallways, and even in classrooms back then, Smith said.
He has now been smoke free for almost 20 years, ever since he took up running.
Smith used to smoke one pack a day, which he said was a lot less expensive back then.
“I heard they are now like $10 a pack or something, I don’t know how they afford it,” he said.
When he first joined the Learn to Run program at the Running Room in London, all he wanted to do after a run was to smoke a cigarette. Later, he told himself that he wasn’t going to do both – smoking and running.
“So, I went to my doctor and I did get some help from them. There are prescriptions out there that will help you. I think I tried to quit on my own many times,” he said. “The last time when I took up the running, it felt different in my head. I knew that was the pinnacle for me, the running was going to help me and make me quit and it did. It just kind of worked that time and I just felt differently.”
The Canadian Cancer Society partnered with Running Room to start a nationwide Run to Quit program in 2016. The business offers virtual or in-store training programs and guides participants through a 10-week walking or running program while receiving support to quit smoking.
“I was 42, I was an older runner. I just turned 60 so, I was a late bloomer,” he said.
Smith said he never missed smoking when he quit it and he felt good. He said he is happy and now he can help others who are trying to quit.
“If I did sort of have a craving to smoke, I went for a run. I would be like ‘I have to replace this with something’ so instead of having a cigarette I would just go for a little run,” he said.
In 2000 he ran the Walt Disney marathon in Florida. By then he had been running for a year and he wanted to run a marathon. When he saw the medal in a magazine advertisement, he told himself that he should have it.
“So, for a full marathon you get a huge Mickey Mouse head and for the half marathon you get a huge Donald Duck head. So I have both of those,” he said with a smile. “They shut the theme parks down and you run throughout there and high-five all the Disney characters. Mickey was there at the end of the line to give a medal.”
He has run one full marathon, 14 half marathons and a few 5Ks and 10Ks. He has also taught at the various Running Room Learn to Run programs and has helped people learn to run marathons and quit smoking.
He said his journey has been fun.
“I have a job where it’s not really a job, it’s just having fun every day. The best part is meeting new people and telling them they can be a runner, they can quit smoking and they can run a marathon, because I know it’s all true. Just being able to tell somebody about that is amazing,” Smith said.
Sandra Friedli-Guest, store manager of the Running Room in Kitchener, supports the Canadian Cancer Society partnering with Running Room to start the Run to Quit program.
“What we have learned from the training program is, it’s not a 100 per cent. It takes multiple tries to quit smoking. For some people it works right off and for others it doesn’t,” she said. “The running is just one aspect, just to create a healthy habit. Hopefully they will use running as a stress relief and they won’t be tempted as much to go out and have a smoke.”
Friedli-Guest said run club members are excited about the new Run to Quit program and they have passed on the message to their family and friends.
She said she was a smoker when she was a teen and from her personal experience, she knows how important exercise is.
“Movement just makes you better all the time,” she said.