Betty Holston Smith

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Ruby’s Rap by Ruby Comer

Photo by Robert Eisele/Splash Photo/Kensignton, Maryland
This girl makes me feel like SuperWeenie! Where does she get such strength and endurance? Technically she’s older than me, but certainly not in mind, body, or spirit. At seventy-one, Dr. Betty Holston Smith is proud of her age and has every right to be. Among other things, she’s a marathon runner extraordinaire.

Betty has run over 100,000 miles on all seven continents, including Antarctica! She’s a veteran of seventy-five marathons and ten ultra-marathons, and in many of those races the proceeds were donated to AIDS research. (She has also participated in AIDS walks and relays, and volunteered for AIDS events.) Ms. Holston has been running for forty-three years, beginning as “a two-hundred pound overweight, junk food, smoking, out of control person.”

As an educator, administrator, and operator of her own consulting company for fifteen-plus years, Betty would travel the U.S., even to Alaskan villages and Native American reservations, upgrading early and middle childhood education and development programs. She would train families, teachers, and administrators to achieve quality care for young children. The grandmother of two is also a holder of a patent for “chickpea,” a garment for active people that’s equipped with a zipperless fly-flap crotch which allows for easy elimination when nature calls. Betty will also be part of a new AARP Web site called “Life Reimagined.”

After I attend the 19th International AIDS Conference in D.C., Betty meets me later in the afternoon at Mr. Henry’s restaurant on Capitol Hill in the late afternoon, near her home in Maryland. It’s a humid day, but we enjoy the summer patio and the view of the stately geodesic dome.

Ruby Comer: “You look maa-va-lous!,” as Billy Crystal used to say. Betty, you glow. If this is what running has done for you, get me to the track, sista.
Betty Holston Smith:
Well, I think you know this, but I am a ChiRunner [a technique that incorporates mind-body martial arts]. ChiRunning for me was the next logical step toward perfecting moving meditation as I run, as I’ve practiced Tai Chi for twenty-four years. Moving in a meditative state allows my body and mind to be balanced, flexible, strong, and relaxed—and that is how I move when I’m running, walking, swimming, or whatever.

It’s a discipline, almost a lifestyle. I need to encompass this into my jogging. I mean, I meditate, so why not do both together?! Hmmm. Betty, when I say AIDS, what comes to mind?
AIDS for far too many people is looked upon as a disease that is a just reward for being gay or for being African or for having sex with chimps. AIDS is still clouded in dishonor even by some family members as they watch their loved ones succumb to the disease.

Right as rain!
Africans and gays have been on this earth since the beginning of dirt so why should AIDS show up eons later in only these two populations? I never believed Darwin’s theory or that Columbus discovered America either!

How has the epidemic affected you?
Tony, my nephew, died a very heartbreaking death at the age of thirty-five. He was a drug user and most likely got hold of an infected needle. His charm coupled with his good looks worked together so that women gravitated to him like ants at a picnic. Tony entered the hospital undiagnosed. Initially, doctors did not know what Tony was suffering with for nearly a month. He was in denial about the symptoms, which were atypical and he refused to allow AIDS testing because of the stigma associated with the disease. Finally at the very end he allowed testing, and five days later he died with his mother, brother, and aunt in attendance. That was in 1998.

That’s even after the cocktails came out…[shaking my head].
Before he died, Tony gave his mother his “little black book” with the names and numbers of many of the women he had had unprotected sex with over the last year. His mother took up the cause and notified each of the women that she could contact and urged them to get tested. Tony’s mother also urged the women to contact the men with whom they had had sex with, too. [She pensively looks out at the trees that overflow onto Pennsylvania Avenue.]

After Tony’s death, his mom and sister, who live near San Francisco, ran a marathon that benefitted AIDS research. They both completed the run, collecting a few hundred dollars each. Me and other family members, from the East Coast, supported them mentally and financially.

As you know, HIV is gravely hitting the younger generation. Will you tell your grandsons about how to live a healthy sex life?
My grandsons are five and six and are a bit young for STD education. But I have been laying the groundwork for such future conversations. With their questions now about such things as blood, urine, and feces, I have developmentally appropriate anatomy books as a regular part of their learning environment at my house. So as they age and are ready for deeper conversations, they will already have the foundation upon which those answers can rest. This foundation will minimize possibilities of fragmented answers. Therefore, approaching AIDS education will cease to be isolated and will be part of the whole, regarding the human body and how it functions.

Roger-dodger. Smart.
I believe that they will have deeper understanding, deeper acceptance, and deeper respect. This is another straight-out way of saying that it’s

Against a backdrop of cherry blossoms, Betty Holston Smith tackles a marathon.
already too late to help children who might already be having unprotected sex and don’t have a clue about the consequences. For them, we can only help clean up the mess. The bottom line is we must begin to build a foundation for learning about the human body and how it functions when the child first shows interest in the human body—beginning at age two? Or three? Of course, this will be done in a developmentally appropriate way [she takes a breath], otherwise forget about prevention.

Any more thoughts on the epidemic?
Although a cure is most likely years away, Ruby, more people are able to carry on their lives if they have access to medications. Politician-driven wars on homefront diseases or conditions, such as the war on poverty or the war on cancer have not worked and probably never will. Most politically driven programs are doomed to failure because they seem to be cosmetic in nature. If we really wish to wipe out diseases such as AIDS, we must forget politics and vigorously attack it on the homefront and at the community center. If we do not arm the community that relates to the home that relates directly to that child—it ain’t gonna work, folks!!

I read somewhere you were at the Pentagon on 9/11! You were doing consulting work with their Child Development Center and helped usher out nearly 180 children—six weeks to five years of age. [I shake my bobbed-hair in wonderment.] With your Sylvester Stallone-toned body, you were even able to quickly run back to the building retrieving necessary items for them….
Yes, Ruby. And the next day I was able to complete a long run which helped relieve the stress of…that…trying…time. [She looks off, recalling the sad memory.]

Running is such healing therapy for you. I heard somewhere that you’re penning a book, and that you’re also in training…?
Nature’s Path to Ageless Aging is the working title of my autobiography and I’m presently looking for a publisher. I’m also currently in training to run a seventy-two-hour ultra road race in December [Across the Years Race in Arizona] without a break or nap. Exactly one month later I will turn seventy-two years old!

Betty, you are an inspiration. May I have as much energy and passion when I hit the Big 7-0.
Ruby, I’m no special runner and my book chronicles why and how I am able to do this in minimal shoes without need for recovery. I do not expect others to become runners. But I do hope that they can glean information from my lifestyle so they can enhance their life and their health, especially as they age.

Catch up with Betty Holston Smith by logging on to grandmotherinvents.com.

Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by
e-mail at [email protected]

October 2012