Reston resident Terrie Smith is used to grueling battles. For the last 20 years, the 64-year-old has competed in every Reston Triathlon. He runs 24 miles and swims an average of 11,100 meters each week. And his regular bike route, which he takes at least three times a week, stretches for roughly 25 miles.
But for all of Smith's exercise that regularly pushes his body to the limit, none of it prepared him for what became his toughest battle — a fight with esophagus cancer.
"It was difficult," Smith said, as he stretched before heading out on his Friday morning six-mile run. "Anybody who's had cancer can tell you. You can't describe it. You've got to live it to understand and you don't want to do that. That you can walk away from such pain and agony is pretty incredible."
Smith was diagnosed with cancer last summer and underwent chemotherapy and radiation during the fall. He made his doctors delay the treatment for several weeks so he could compete — despite excruciating pain — in last September's Reston Triathlon.
Then, in December, surgeons operated and removed the malignant cancer growing in his esophagus.
Despite losing 25 pounds, barely being able to eat and incapable of walking around his block, Smith promised himself he would participate in this year's Reston Triathlon, which will be held Sept. 12.
"I knew I could do it," he said. "There was never any doubt in my mind. It just never occurred to me."
WHEN SMITH competes in the running, bicycling and swimming competition next month, he will have reached the culmination of a training regime that required him to essentially start from scratch.
At the beginning of his recovery, he would walk short distances, adding a quarter of a mile each week, slowly building up to a run.
Similarly, he gradually eased himself back into his bicycling routine and his regular swim practices with the Reston Masters Swim Team.
His fellow athletes from the swim team or from the Reston Runners club would frequently stop by and exercise with him.
"The amount of support I got was really phenomenal," he said. "That's what helped me get through it all."
Smith's wife, Rita Smith, who fed and took care of him as he recovered from the cancer, said her husband made it through on sheer determination and strength.
"To go from not even being able to eat to competing in a triathlon is really amazing," she said. "He had such a good attitude and we just had so many people praying for him."
ROGER LOWEN, Smith's friend and regular workout partner, said he is inspired by Smith's example. Lowen, who is 72, is believed to be the oldest participant registered for this year's Reston Triathlon.
"What happened to Terrie shows a lot of determination," Lowen said. "He's just not willing to accept setbacks like that."
Smith's doctor and also a frequent exercise companion, Neil Medoff, said Smith's active lifestyle helped him through his recovery.
"It's incredible," Medoff said.
Smith is well-known among Reston athletes because he was one of the founders of the Reston Triathlon and has served on the Reston Community Center's Board of Governors for almost 20 years.