by Leslie Feldman
He trains about 15 hours during an average week. Through his daily workouts, he totals nearly 150 miles of bicycling, about five miles of swimming and between 20 and 25 miles of running each week. For Ironman triathlete Conor Smith, training and type 1 diabetes have something in common: working at them every day is critical to achieve his goals.
Smith, 43, who lived in Chestnut Hill from 2006 and 2012 but currently lives in Fort Washington, is a husband, father of two young boys and president of the recruiting firm The BOSS Group, a Bala Cynwyd-based staffing firm for creative, marketing and digital talent. (“We are are the only creative staffing firm to win the Diamond Best of Staffing Award for superior customer service, as voted on by our customers.”)
He is also an avid cyclist and runner who enjoys leading a super-healthy lifestyle. He will be competing to beat other athletes in the Ironman on September 11 in Madison, WI, one of the world’s most “impossible” sporting events. He also competes with himself to beat type 1 diabetes, which he was diagnosed with three years ago at age 40.
“There is a big misconception that only children can get type 1 diabetes (hence, the old name of Juvenile Diabetes), but the cases of adult onset are rising,” explained Smith last week. “Most people assume adults with diabetes have type 2, which many times is due to poor lifestyle choices, whereas type 1 is an autoimmune disease.”
The Ironman challenge will consist of a 2.4-mile open water swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride with almost 5,000 feet of elevation, followed by a 26.2-mile run. Obviously one has to be in spectacular physical condition to finish the grueling ordeal. Smith is doing the Ironman as part of the Riding on Insulin endurance team. Riding on Insulin is a non-profit that puts on camps for children with type 1 diabetes. These camps help empower and educate children to live happier and healthier lives.
After his diagnosis, Smith was determined to remain active and do the physical activities he loves and even push himself to new limits. Through research and connections with others fighting the disease, he found that exercise is one of the most important factors for maintaining a healthy lifestyle for people with diabetes. “I created Active on Insulin to unite people with diabetes, provide an outlet for fellowship and for staying active together.”
Smith is passionate about being a positive ambassador, to show that with determination, focus and hard work, anything is possible with type 1 diabetes. “I also use endurance sports to help raise awareness and funding for children with type 1. Ultimately, while type 1 diabetes is a struggle for me and any adult, it is particularly cruel and difficult on children. I hope I am setting an example for my children that anything is possible, even after a setback.”
Type 1 diabetes can often have serious or even life-threatening long-term complications such as heart and blood vessel disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage or blindness, foot damage, even loss of toes or legs due to poor circulation, skin and mouth conditions and other problems due to high blood sugar over a long period of time.
“I am blessed that I haven’t had to deal with any of these to date,” said Conor. “However, as a Type 1 diabetic, something that I experience every day is dealing with low blood sugars. I have had several occasions where my wife has had to intervene and help me because my blood sugars were dangerously low. If not addressed, I could fall into a coma.
“Trying to keep my blood sugars from going too low or too high is a 24/7/365 balancing act and something that is always on my mind. All of this being said, I believe that exercise is absolutely the best way to manage blood sugars and live a long and fulfilling life with Type 1 diabetes. There are just so many benefits.”
Smith grew up in Rockledge, graduated from Bishop McDevitt High School in 1991 and from King’s College in New York City in 1995. He also has an MBA from Penn State University, class of 2008.
Conor is also a passionate fan of the Phillies, Sixers, Eagles and Flyers, so much so that his email address is Phillysportsfan1@yahoo.com! “I wouldn’t say I am the craziest fan. There are some really nutty fans in this town, but I am very passionate about my Philly sports.”
Smith resides in Fort Washington with his wife, Amy, and sons, Aidan, 9, and Will, 7. Smith and his family frequent Chestnut Hill quite often, enjoying the shops, restaurants, beautiful architecture and the Wissahickon. “We are still very close to Chestnut Hill,” he said. “We eat out on the Avenue at least once a month, if not more, and visit my parents regularly, who live in Chestnut Hill. I also have regular meetings at the Chestnut Hill Coffee Shop. Although we no longer live within the city limits, the ‘Hill’ is still very much a part of my life.”