Christopher Smith doesn’t think he’s qualified to be a Vermont Sports reader athlete. Athletically, he’s a late bloomer, but thanks to the inspiration of his wife and kids, he’s spending more and more time on his bike (a single-speed that he rides on mountain bike trails) and at the ice rink.
VS: Tell us about how you started mountain biking.
CS: I used to be a recreational runner, but the most competitive thing I ever did was a half-marathon. I was inspired by Don Metz, a 72-year-old architect who recently completed the Race Across America. About three years ago, I started mountain biking and absolutely loved it. Down the road from me is the Union Village Dam in Thetford, which is a great place to ride and is basically just outside my back door.
VS: What do you like about mountain biking?
CS: I love being out in the woods and negotiating the technical challenges of the trail. I’m getting better; I don’t bleed as much as I did my first year.
VS: What kind of bike do you have?
CS: I prefer a single-speed bike, which is well suited for the terrain I ride. There’s a lot of up and down, but no extended climbs. I like the intensity of having to stand up when you’re climbing and not thinking about anything but the trail. There are no extraneous thoughts like when to change gears. It’s not the most efficient way to bike, but I like the simplicity and the direct biking feel. A single-speed isn’t a cruising bike. The only time you rest is on the downhill.
At this point I have three single-speed bikes; my starter bike, a Jeff Jones frame, and a new bike with suspension because I signed up to do the Vermont 50 [a mountain bike race in September to benefit Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports]. As an architect, I like to build things, so for these bikes, I purchased the frames and then some parts on eBay, and then I built them myself. Yesterday I was building my wheel sets. I’ve become a bike geek. I really like putting the bikes together and maintaining them.
VS: How is the training going for the Vermont 50?
CS: Honestly, I don’t have an incredible training program. I just try to get out a few times a week for a couple of hours. In July and August, I hope to get in some 30- to 40-mile rides.
VS: I understand you recently rediscovered your love for ice hockey?
CS: I played recreationally as a kid. In prep school, I only played club level, and I went to an art school for college so there was only club level. I stopped for awhile, but when my kids were teenagers, they started playing and I went to their games. About eight years ago, my daughters and my wife went through my old hockey bag and upgraded my gear and got me a league to play in. It’s a purely recreational group that just scrimmages with no hitting, but we play twice a week, and I absolutely love it. It’s a fun game, and although I broke my collarbone once, I try to stay as injury-free as possible.
VS: You recently climbed Kilimanjaro, didn’t you?
CS: That was my stepmother’s dream trip. She rallied me, my younger sister, and two younger half brothers to go last February. Kilimanjaro is really a bit of a tourist hike. You don’t need crampons or climbing gear. The last day is more of a challenge because you start at night, summit at 7 a.m., and then hike down through the afternoon. It was great to watch the sunrise over Africa. I had never been at such high altitude before so that was challenging, and I had to watch my breathing. The hike isn’t a great physical trial aside from that one long day, but my stepmother had quite the challenge; she did the trip with a broken foot and bronchitis.
VS: What other sports do you do?
CS: I play platform tennis every Tuesday night. It’s just like regular tennis except the court is three-fourths the size, it’s surrounded by chicken wire, and you can play off the wire. It was designed as a winter sport, but I play it year-round. You use a solid rubber ball, which isn’t as bouncy, and you only get a single serve. It’s a doubles game, but either both people play up front or in back, in contrast to tennis. I’m a mediocre lifetime tennis player, but I discovered platform tennis about six years ago and really love it. It’s a fast-moving game with a fair amount of running. Some of the points can go on for a long time because the ability to play the carom means it’s harder to hit a winning shot.
VS: So you don’t run anymore?
CS: No. I don’t have a great schedule, so if I have free time, I just jump on my mountain bike. I’ve thought about road-biking, but the cars scare me off. Besides, I really love being out in the woods. I know there’s no true safety in any sport, but the worst injuries I’ve had from mountain biking are scrapes and cuts.
VS: It sounds like you’ve become more athletic as you’ve gotten older?
CS: Absolutely. I was always active and building things, but I don’t think I was really athletically active until my mid-30s. I was influenced a lot by my family. My wife has been a competitive rower for the last 15 years, and about seven years ago, she won the women’s masters championship. She’s an inspiration to me. My daughters rowed in high school and college and played ice hockey, and as they got older, they also inspired me to become more active. I was happy watching their games, but they turned it around and said “here’s your gear and your team; now go out and play.”