KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Eric Smelcer has competed in dozens of races through the legs and tender heart of Tim Rutherford.
Running marathons and 5K races appears to be an individual sport; the runner vs the road. However, several participants will be competing with a partner.
Eric Smelcer has cerebral palsy and can’t run. This isn’t stopping him from competing in the Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon, thanks to an organization that allows people like him to run even when they can’t.
“He’s excited about the races, and he wants all of them put on the calendar. He wants to know when the next one is, and we make sure to put it on the calendar,” said his mother, Sheila Smelcer.
“We’ve got to where we have a bond, an understanding,” said Rutherford. “He can tell when I am struggling – especially on a hill and he’ll look at me – it’s like it’s not that bad – you’re in the chair. Ha ha.”
Rutherford started running in 2013. A few years later, while running at a race he was introduced to Ainsley’s Angels, a non-profit that gives those with disabilities a chance to take part in road races.
“I saw it and I saw the look on the children’s faces, and I wanted to be part of it,” said Rutherford.
Then Rutherford met Eric Smelcer, and for the past three and half years they have been partners in all kinds of races.
“He loves going fast. He loves to ride the roller coasters at Dollywood. So, he likes to go fast. And this gives him the opportunity to go fast and do what he loves,” said Sheila Smelcer.
She added they don’t just take part in the runs. They win them as well.
“And often they get first place in their age groups and that means so much to Eric too – it’s the first time he is a winner at anything. Most of the time you’re told no, no, no, but with this, we’re told Yes – we can do this,” said Sheila Smelcer.
That is something that means so much to Eric Smelcer and his family.
“As a parent with a special needs child, there are very few people who will step in and do something for your child that is that meaningful. So, it’s special to us,” said Sheila Smelcer.
It’s also special for Rutherford.
“I’m 60 years old and I cry every time I cross the finish line with Eric. I am his arms, and I am his legs,” said Rutherford. “This is my way of giving back. God has blessed me. I’ve been fortunate. So, that’s why I do it.”
Rutherford and Eric Smelcer will be together at the Knoxville Half Marathon. It will be their first 13-mile run together. They’re also planning to run a full marathon together, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. in 2024.