In a weight room he set up at Lake Center Christian School in Hartville, Tim Smith, a muscular 62 year old, demonstrated his mastery of the clean and jerk.
In a burst of power, he heaved 185 pounds over his head, barely breaking a sweat.
“For my age group, the state record is 220,” said Tim, a former sheriff’s special deputy and superintendent of juvenile detention for Summit County. “I did 225 the other day, but you have to do it in a meet for it to count.”
Tim’s passion for Olympic-style weightlifting, and for coaching hundreds of kids in the Akron area over the years, can be traced to his struggles as a boy with cancer.
At age 10, Tim was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma at Akron Children’s Hospital. Incredibly, his mother and an older brother were diagnosed with the disease around the same time, and both died within a few years. Tim recalls that an environmental study was conducted, but the family never found out a cause.
He grew up on the west side of Akron, the youngest of 8 kids. After his diagnosis in 1965, he remembers being treated with intravenous infusions of nitrogen mustard, an early cancer drug derived from mustard gas, and receiving high doses of radiation.
“They told my dad I probably wouldn’t survive,” he said.
His family was devastated. Tim was sick and fatigued for a long time. He carried sores on his neck and face from the radiation. After he returned to school, kids teased him.
“I would hide because people would talk about me. ‘What’s the matter with that kid?’ I didn’t have friends.”
That’s when he turned to weightlifting.
When he was 12, Tim’s father took him to a legendary East Akron gym, the American College of Modern Weightlifting. Founded by 3 Barnholth brothers, the gym trained elite weightlifters, including a couple of Olympic medalists. The brothers took Tim under their wing.
“My mom died when I was 12. My dad was injured in an industrial accident. Larry and Louie Barnholth became like my parents,” Tim said. “I was struggling physically and emotionally. They gave me my life back.”
After years of training, he went on to coach others, including weightlifters in the Special Olympics. He believes his purpose is to help others. He often serves as both coach and counselor. Tim has a soft spot for troubled souls and people living in the margins.
Tim has worked with foster kids, and helped men coming out of prison find housing and jobs. As a student at the University of Akron years ago, he worked as a night supervisor at a halfway house. He would give some ex-convicts rides back and forth to the university so they could take classes.
“After what I went through as a kid, it gives you a sensitivity to what other people go through,” he said.
“I’ve always had a desire to help. I needed a lot of help and people were there for me.”
A married father of 4 grown children, he’s looking for his next weight-training project. He would like to work with economically disadvantaged kids in Akron. He believes that having beat cancer more than 50 years ago, he can be an inspiration.
“I don’t know how many 50-year survivors are out there,” he said. “I hope that it gives people hope.”