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April 1, 2013

Grant-Smith shares tale of becoming nurse, marathoner

VALDOSTA — Libby Grant-Smith was once a waitress, and she raised two kids on practically nothing. She says she made mistakes in her life, and that if the three strikes rule were real, like her mom used to tell her, then she’d have been out a long time ago.

But with work and determination, she has turned things around for herself, her son Layne, and her daughter Nyah.

Grant-Smith, 40, will graduate from Valdosta State University May 6 with the title of Nurse Practitioner. She has been to Haiti to give humanitarian aid to children and families thrown into poverty after the earthquake in 2010, and on her first try, she qualified for the Boston marathon.

“I don’t have any regrets,” Grant-Smith said about her life, “and I don’t regret making mistakes. But it is a mistake to get married when you’re 19 and not to go to college. I didn’t have any goals for myself, and I didn’t plan. You have to plan for your future in order to have one.”

Grant-Smith grew up in Edon, Ohio with good parents, but they never encouraged her to go to college or to invest in the future, she said. Her parents had never been to college either.

“My dad had a body shop in the back yar, and that’s how he supported all of us,” Grant-Smith said. “And my Momma cleaned houses. It wasn’t bad, but they didn’t encourage us to go to school.”

Grant-Smith grew up with an older brother and sister and a younger brother. She began working as a waitress when she was young at a breakfast joint in Angola, Ind. called Country Shalet, and remained there for about seven years.

“I did that when my kids were young, and while I was waiting tables, I earned my Associate’s Degree in Secretarial Management,” Grant-Smith said. “Then we moved (to Valdosta) in 1999, and I worked at First Federal Savings and Loan as a loan clerk.”

Still, there wasn’t enough money to support her and her children, so she worked weekends at the country club as a server. But her life changed when her father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004.

“He was my prized person, my superstar,” Grant-Smith said. “They told us he had four to six months to live, and on the way home, he said, ‘I should have lived my life differently.’ Something about that made me want to change things and do something different.”

Her father defied the prognosis and lived for another four years, and during that time, Grant-Smith started researching her father’s condition and other medical information on the Internet, and became interested in nursing.

During that time, her father redefined what he had said to her in the car, and he explained he meant he wished he would have gotten an education, Grant-Smith said. She earned her degree in nursing at Valdosta State University in time to be a nurse to her father.

“I took care of him when he was sick,” Grant-Smith said. “When you feed somebody their last sip of water, and you watch them take their last breath, you realize that life is precious, and that it ends.”

Grant-Smith continued her career in nursing, and volunteered at the Partnership for Health Center and was appointed Clinic Director when the job became vacant. She worked there for another two years, and then decided to return to school to become a Nurse Practitioner.

“Nurses are different from physicians—doctors medically diagnose the patient, and the nurse cares for the patient based on the doctor’s diagnosis,” Grant-Smith said. “She applies her nursing knowledge by caring for the whole patient, body, spirit and mind.”

In 2010, Grant-Smith was moved to go on a mission trip with Crosspointe Baptist Church to Haiti to provide humanitarian aid to those thrown into poverty after the massive earthquake.

“I went as a nurse,” Grant-Smith said. “I bathed babies, gave out food and water. It was another eye-opening experience. I always considered myself poor until I went to Haiti. They were living in tents and tarps, living underneath blankets. They didn’t have shoes or running water.”

Grant-Smith gave away a $100 pair of running shoes to a child, and came back in a pair of old shoes, she said, which was a significant favor, especially since she has been a runner since high school.

“When my father was diagnosed with cancer, I was stressed all the time and worried, and running can relieve stress,” she said. “Then it became a challenge to me. I was running road races with the Valdosta Running Club, and I wanted to keep getting better.”

Grant-Smith became interested in completing a marathon and trained at Estride with Ryan Beaudry.

“Some people need a fresh start, and I was at a point in my life where I wanted to start over,” Grant-Smith said. “If you can run 26.2 miles, you can do anything.”

Grant-Smith equates finishing a marathon with a baptism, but never planned to run more than one or two. She planned to run a qualifier for the Boston Marathon, and settled on the Snickers marathon in Albany.

If she made the cut, she would run another; if not, she would still come out of the challenge a new person.

“You have to run the marathon in 3:45, and I ran mine in 3:43:16,” Grant-Smith said. “I beat it by two minutes. To make it to the Boston Marathon on my first try, I cried for 30 minutes!”

She will run in Boston in April next year, and is working on being a strong example of the benefits of planning and education to her children. Layne, 21, is studying mathematics at VSU and is a junior, and Nyah, 17, plans to attend school but hasn’t quite settled on which to attend. Like her mother, she is interested in nursing.

“With them, I’m trying to not have them have the same struggles that I had,” Grant-Smith said. “I dug quarters out of the couch to buy Layne milk when he was a baby. I’m trying to teach them that if you want something in life, you have to get it.”

She jokes that her marathon running was the product of a mid-life crisis, but she has clear goals for herself where once there were none.

“I’m determined not to live the second half of my life like I lived the first half,” Grant-Smith said.

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