Seventy-one-year-old Vietnam native Chau Smith, who owns Chau’s Alterations & Dry Cleaning in Independence, completed a first-time feat last year.
She ran a series of marathons with a group of 10 people organized by Steve Hibbs, owner of the specialty travel company Marathon Adventures.
It wasn’t just any series of marathons. At 70 years old, she ran seven different marathons, in seven days on seven different continents. Sounds crazy, right?
Well, she was able to do it, completing what Hibbs dubbed as the Triple 7 Quest.
So what did Smith have planned for an encore?
Well, Hibbs organized a Triple 8 Quest for this year and Smith and a group of people added one more continent and one more day to the list as they ran eight different marathons in eights days in eight different continents.
Now, most may think there are only seven continents. But there is a microcontinent called Zealandia, a continent that has 94 percent of its land submerged in the Pacific Ocean. That’s where Smith and her Triple 8 Quest group started their adventure in Auckland, New Zealand.
From there, Smith ran marathons in Perth, Australia; Singapore; Cairo, Egypt; Amsterdam, Netherlands; New York City; Punta Arenas, Chile; and King George Island, Antarctica.
“I just figured that I am not getting any younger,” said Smith, who estimated that she’s run more than 50 marathons in her lifetime. “Even though the eighth continent is not officially recognized, I wanted to go ahead and do it.
“We’re the only ones to try to run eight marathons on eight continents in eight days.”
Running is just what Smith likes to do. At one point in her life, she viewed running as boring. Now, she runs whenever possible, sometimes with her husband Michael at their home in South Kansas city. To prepare herself for the Triple 8 quest, she would run from her condo to the grocery store or just run 4 to 5 miles with her husband around 4:30-5 a.m. and sometimes 2 to 3 more miles on her own. On Saturdays, she sometimes joined a running group and ran another 10 miles or so with them.
“We would run in the dark and really cold sometimes,” Smith said. “I had to run early because I had to work at 8.”
She faced many of the challenges that she tackled during the Triple 7 Quest. Smith ran a total of 208.8 miles, had little to no time to sleep in between races and adapting to time and weather changes every day from Jan. 23-31. This time around, the temperatures ranged anywhere from -20 degrees to 85. It was a little easier to get used to it this time around after having done the Triple 7 Quest last year.
The race in Antarctica did take some getting used to. Not only was the temperature in the negatives, but she had to run in extremely windy conditions while snow and ice pelted her. It was easily the most challenging marathon of the bunch, she said. During the marathon, she pulled a muscle in her lower back, but still managed to finish.
“It took me nine hours to finish,” Smith said. “It was hard to stay upright (while running in the strong winds). It was my third time down there and this was the worst time. The wind, snow and hail and sometimes a pellet would hit my face and my eyeball. I was afraid it was going to damage my vision. The course was really hilly and rocky. And sometimes you had to run through mud and anything you can think of.
“I am a person that doesn’t really sleep much. I was able to adapt (to the time changes) pretty easily.”
Smith said this will be her last time for the Triple 8 Quest, but she still plans on running in her spare time. She will still have memories to last a lifetime from both excursions, which garnered worldwide attention, including news outlets like CNN and the Huffington Post.
Smith also was recognized locally as she received the Lifetime Sportswoman of the Year award at the Women’s Intersport Network For KC event hosted by the Kansas City Sports Commission & Foundation Wednesday.
“My story has been recognized worldwide,” Smith said. “I got the award for my running history. They sent me an email and I went through my email and saw ‘win something.’ I thought someone was trying to sell me something. I almost trashed that email. I look a little more and I yelled, ‘Oh my gosh!’ I was in tears.”