Former state champ Smith talks college career, present
Two-time state champ in high school ran at Ohio State, now working for Nike in Portland
It’s been more than a year since Olivia Smith ran collegiately.
It’s been five years since she last wore a Calvert uniform
Six since her last state title.
It seemed like a good time to catch up with Smith.
Well, figuratively, since few could catch up with her on the race track.
Smith admitted that she’s surprised it has been that long since she won the second of her two state titles in the Division III 800 at Jesse Owens Stadium.
Things are different now, of course. After running for four seasons at Ohio State — where the site of her biggest prep accomplishments suddenly became her home track — the former Senecas standout is living in Portland, Oregon, working for Nike.
Earlier this week, Smith was asked to reflect on her time at Ohio State, and how things are now.
Smith said it’s been a series of changes. But she has handled them in much the same way she handled the pressure of competing in events.
Not that it was always easy. Smith admitted things weren’t easy when she first went to Ohio State.
“Once I finished up at Calvert and was getting ready to go to Ohio State, I was really excited,” she said. “I was pretty nervous, because I was gonna have to work really hard to hang with some of the top runners in the country, and it was gonna be tough.”
But quickly, Smith — and the Buckeyes — had something to celebrate. In 2015, she ran to first place finishes in the Ohio State Invitational and the Buckeye Tune-Up during the indoor track season. She then finished 20th in the 800 at the Big Ten Indoor championship, an event Ohio State’s women won.
“I remember, we were on the bus on the way home, and kind of got stuck in traffic,” Smith said. “There was music playing, and everybody was just really excited. There was such energy there. I think that stands out to me.”
Then came the outdoor season, which brought another adjustment.
Smith was used to Jesse Owens Stadium being packed with people, and it being the culmination of a high school season.
Now, it was her practice spot every day.
“I would say, especially when I first transitioned to college, going there, that’s where I worked out every single day, and that was weird at first,” she said. “(I thought), this isn’t where you practice, this is where you run state. But as you continue, that became … I spent a lot of time on that track in college. So, there were moments where I think back, and like ‘Wow, this is where it used to be, it looks so different.’ It’s not full of tents and people. It’s just kind of you and your teammates out there.”
Teammates appeared to play a major role in Smith enjoying her college experience. When she ran her last high school race for the program in 2014 (she placed fourth in the 800 as a senior), she talked extensively about the family atmosphere of the Calvert program, and how much that meant to her.
She said the Buckeyes program had a similar structure.
“I am so grateful for the teammates that I had at Ohio State,” Smith said. “I was lucky to be surrounded by tough women every single day, who challenged me and I just learned so much from them, but we always had a lot of fun. So, I would say that even though it was a totally different atmosphere (to Calvert), there was different intensity, different goals, but you still had that close-knit group, and I was super-appreciative of that. Just, some of the greatest people I’ve met on that team, and some of them are my best friends, but they challenged me every single day.”
It was one of those friends, Courtney Clody, who helped in providing another career highlight for Smith.
This one came in her senior year with the Buckeyes. This came during the Jesse Owens Classic, when Smith ran a career best time of 2:08.96 in the 800.
Clody also set a personal mark.
“We actually run our PRs together in the same race, kind of challenging each other,” Smith said. “So that was a great moment, too. It was our last meet on the Jesse Owens track, where you know, the state meet usually takes place. To go back four years later as a senior in college now, and run a PR, with my teammates was super-cool.”
It was while she was still in college, in 2017, that Smith interned with Nike for 12 weeks in Portland.
Maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising she ended up with the company full time. When she ran with Calvert, Smith usually sported Nike shoes, socks, and a Nike headband.
But Smith said working with Nike wasn’t exactly a long-term plan.
“Never in a million years did I think that this is where I was going to end up,” Smith said. “So, to work at the company that had such an impact on my career, as an athlete, is just so cool.”
Smith started working full time for Nike after graduating from Ohio State. And while she no longer runs in the same competitive formats that she did back at Calvert and Ohio State, she still has a love of the sport.
“I think once I finished running competitively last year, last May, I did take quite a bit of time off,” Smith said. “I wanted to give my body and my mind kind of like that reset. Then, moving out here to Oregon, it’s such a running culture. Everybody’s running. There’s beautiful trails everywhere.”
Smith even found a way to get back into competition. She and a group of friends will compete in the Hood to Coast Relay in August.
“It starts in Mount Hood, and then it’s 199 miles overnight to the coast, you do it with 12 people,” she said. “It’s a relay race … so still finding ways to get out there and run, and just do something I have always loved to do. But doing it a little bit differently now.”
A love that was cultivated at Calvert, with coach Stewart Behm and her Seneca teammates.
“With coach Behm, starting there, he just … he empowered me so much, too,” Smith said. “He would build me up, like ‘You can do this, give it your all,’ and those were some of the values he instilled in me: Have some faith in yourself, have some faith in your training, and know that if you go out there every day and you put in the work, and you have some confidence in yourself, the results will pay off.”
It’s proven to be the Olivia Smith way.