Va. man on 10,000-mile run for suicide prevention
Then 13, he said he had fallen into a deep depression and even had his suicide planned out before finding a different way to relieve his pain.
"Now looking back, I really feel like, with God's help of course, running saved my life," said Smith, of Pulaski.
Following actor Robin Williams' suicide on Aug. 11, Smith said he was moved to help others struggling with similar pains, in a similar way -- by running.
On Aug. 16 he filed a letter of resignation from his job of 12 years as a mail carrier, and the next day he completed the first 14 miles of the estimated 10,000-mile cross-country run he hopes to complete to raise awareness for suicide and depression.
"I packed up a few essentials and just left . I said, `I just need to go do this,;" Smith said.
If completed, the trek will take him from his Pulaski home to Virginia Beach, north through Washington D.C. to New York before heading west to San Francisco.
Smith plans to then travel south to San Diego and head east through Texas to Jacksonville, Fla., where he will begin his final march home.
He expects the run will take about year, and though he plans to utilize his savings, he hopes to also gain sponsors as he goes by way of free meals or a free night's stay.
Should such opportunities for housing not come, Smith is prepared to sleep outdoors, running with a jogging stroller packed with clothes, toiletries and a sleeping bag -- just in case.
Smith said that leaving his job, his wife, Rachel, and his two children so quickly to spend the next year on the road was a risky move. However he said his faith in God made him confident he was doing the right thing.
"I feel like he is the one that led me to do this," Tony Smith said. "I just feel like God has his hand there protecting me."
Rachel Smith said she believes her husband's faith played a major role in his decision and the experience would have a positive effect on the blended family, which includes Tony Smith's 11-year-old daughter from a previous marriage and the couple's 2-year-old son.
"It's going to bring us close, as we learn how to depend on each other, and it's definitely going to grow us closer to God because we have to depend on him and trust him," she said.
This isn't the first time Rachel Smith has seen her husband run for the purpose of helping others.
While attempting to recover from an injury in the spring of 2012, Tony Smith began asking people via his community Facebook page, Run Hope Live, to nominate people to whom he could dedicate each of his workouts or races.
Since that time, Tony Smith estimated he's completed more than 500 runs in honor of people, marking each with a photo of himself and the person's name, and his Facebook following has expanded to more than 7,500 people.
Rachel Smith said her husband always knew he was going to do something on a larger scale with his Run Hope Live campaign and had talked of doing a cross-country run in 2015.
The combination of a bout with depression this spring and Williams' death this summer greatly expedited that plan.
"It just reminded me of the time I had contemplated suicide in my teenage years, and I just couldn't let it go," Tony Smith said.
"I'd actually forgotten how dark it (depression) could be. Maybe that was God's way of reminding me why this (cause) is so important."
Though slightly shocked at her husband's impromptu decision, Rachel Smith said her excitement far outweighed the majority of her concerns about him being gone for the year.
"I've never struggled with worrying over finances or anything like that,"' Rachel Smith said. "The struggle will probably just be missing him"'
Because Tony Smith left so abruptly, there are still questions about how exactly his run will pan out.
A veteran of the United States Army, Smith is currently in the National Guard and is expected to participate in training in Lynchburg three times in the next six months.
He is hoping to be excused from the training and allowed to make it up later to avoid traveling back to Lynchburg during the middle of his run, but has yet to receive an official decision.
Tony Smith said he'd also planned to line up speaking engagements with churches or social groups along his route, but has been unable to so far due to the short notice of his trip and his ever-evolving running path. He remains hopeful, however, that that will change and he can share his testimony with people as he travels.
"I think when you speak to people and tell them, `You are loved by God' . you can really help them heal," Tony Smith said.
Tony Smith was realistic about the potential problems which could prevent him from reaching his goal, but said his final distance traveled won't be the criteria by which he judges his success.
In fact, he said he would likely never be able to judge the exact success of his efforts.
"In reality, my story could have touched one person and that person could have not committed suicide because of what I'm doing and my mission will have been a complete success," Tony Smith said.
To follow Tony Smith on his journey, visit http://www.runhopelive.com