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[Sound: voices, and walking through grass]
Walking across the soccer field at Springfield Catholic High School, standout athlete and student Natalie Smid recalls the first time she had an asthma attack. She was a bright-eyed elementary schoolgirl with a brown ponytail, darting around on a soccer field much like this one.
"I couldn’t breathe. So my coach just told me to sit down. And it was scary," she remembers.
Still today, when this 17-year-old runs, her airways begin to swell and she struggles to get oxygen to her lungs.
Nevertheless, her junior year, she joined the cross-country team.
Smid: I would have an attack most of our meets, a lot of them.Moore: Why did you keep running? I think most people with exercise-induced asthma would not choose to be a cross-country runner or a midfielder in soccer.Smid: Well, because of how much I loved to run and how much I loved my teammates.And it was worth doing it for them. And the feeling at the end when we accomplished something was worth going through the attack.
"The first race she ever ran in cross-country, she broke the 15-year-old school record at Springfield Catholic. This is a gal that is the 9th best runner in the state of Missouri," says her cross-country coach, Nick Russo.
The night before that meet, Natalie had written her exact time on the bottom of her shoe—it was one second faster than the old school record.
Russo says he tried to recruit Natalie for years before she decided to run. And despite the fact that she’s a natural athlete, the reason he wanted her on the team had little to do with athletic ability. He could see that this girl’s got heart.
"I saw that willingness to compete and that desire to be successful. And that’s what distinguishes those athletes from other athletes," he says.
And he didn’t know about her asthma until she finished second in a race in Monett. After crossing the finish line, Natalie collapsed and was taken to the emergency room.
Shortly after that episode, at another meet, Natalie was in second place with about 400 meters to go. Despite the fact that she was having trouble breathing, she was determined to finish. But to her dismay, Coach Russo stepped into her path.
"I just pulled her off the course, because I knew she was struggling. But knowing Natalie as I’ve grown to know Natalie, she would’ve crawled to the finish line," Russo says.
Natalie says her dad has always called her “Moses,” because he has always seen a leader in her, and he’s encouraged that. Her teammates call her “Nakato”…and that one is just a long story.
Natalie helped lead Springfield Catholic’s soccer team to a state championship this year, and has just been named All-state for the second year in a row.
During the state soccer quarterfinals, she learned that her tennis coach, Dan Walker, had passed away. Though she didn’t feel like playing, she decided to play the game in honor of her late coach. She wound up scoring a stunning three goals early in the second half.
Natalie is also an honor student.
But her excellence extends even beyond the athletic and academic realms: she’s on the youth committee for Relay for Life. And she volunteers her time at Springfield’s only free medical clinic, The Kitchen Clinic.
She still remembers the first time she took a patient’s temperature at the clinic. She was so nervous that her hands were shaking.
"And the lady goes, 'You’re new, aren’t you?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And she assured me that it was okay,” Smid says.
Natalie says she greatly admires her parents, because they always made time for her and her sister at the end of the day. She says she admires her little sister for her grace, and always knowing what to say. One of her role models is Dr. Paul Farmer, an American doctor who has made it his mission to treat the world’s poorest and sickest people on a grand scale.
Another role model of hers is Dr. Janie Vestal, who works tirelessly with a cheerful attitude treating Springfield’s uninsured population at the Kitchen Clinic.
Natalie doesn’t make a big deal about her accomplishments, nor the obstacles she’s had to overcome to achieve them.
"Everyone has weaknesses. And if you dwell on those all the time, then you are gonna be an unhappy person and not get along with others. But then if you focus on their strengths, then everyone has something that they can contribute. It’s a lot more effective," she says.
And she says being young has nothing to do with being effective.
"That phrase, ‘The children are the future,’ it almost discourages us from being the ‘now'…Everyone can play a part in positive change. I think that’s what life's about,” she says.
Natalie Smid aspires to attend Brown University and go into medicine. She says her dream is to open a free medical clinic one day, to do work in developing countries, and also to be content.
Those who know her say they have no doubt those are just a few finish lines she’s sure to cross.
For KSMU’s Sense of Community Series, I’m Jennifer Moore.
[Guitar music fades out]