Chau Smith after running in a marathon in New Mexico last weekend.

A 72-year-old woman who has run marathons in nearly all 50 U.S. states will be among the hundreds of people participating in the Bismarck Marathon this weekend.

Chau Smith is six marathons away from completing her goal. Two years ago, she ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. And last year, she finished eight marathons in eight days on eight "continents," the last being Zealandia, most of which is submerged beneath the sea in the New Zealand area.

Smith, who was born in Vietnam and now lives in Independence, Mo., biked behind her husband as he was training for the Kansas City Marathon, according to her website. Bored, she started running behind him. Smith ran her first marathon in 1996 to help raise money for leukemia survivors in honor of a friend's son and a customer, who were both diagnosed with the disease. Since then, she's run close to 90. Smith said she decided last year to run in marathons in all American states by spring 2020.

"As Americans, I think it is important to run 50 states," she told the Tribune in a phone interview. "I traveled all over the world and ran into some American runners who completed 50 states. Shame on us not to have done it. So that's my new goal."

Smith emigrated from South Vietnam in 1972 and is now a U.S. citizen. During the Vietnam War, she was hit by shrapnel when she was 13. In a video posted to her website, her husband, Michael Smith, 77, who also will be running the Bismarck Marathon, said the shrapnel still in her leg occasionally causes her pain.

In Missouri, she works 15 hours a day running an alterations and dry cleaning business. She also helps her four siblings and their families -- a total of 25 people -- get adjusted to life in the United States. She said running has helped her cope with the stress of work and family.

"Running helps to maintain my health and my emotional well-being," she said. "When I'm running, I feel like I can handle all those things."

Last weekend, Smith ran a marathon in Albuquerque, N.M. While there, she said, a fellow runner told her he ran the Bismarck Marathon a couple of years ago and looked forward to coming back. It's gotten her excited about running in North Dakota's capital city, she said.

"He said it's wonderful, it's beautiful, you will love it," Smith said.

Bismarck Marathon Co-Chair Dustin Erhardt said he is expecting more than 1,600 participants in the main event Saturday. He also expects 900 more people to be at Friday night events, which include new features: a 4K dog-friendly marathon, a CHI St. Alexius "Motivational Mile" and volunteers cheering runners at mile markers. 

The route will be the same as in previous years, part of it following the Missouri River. The marathon starts at 7:30 a.m.

Most proceeds from the marathon will go to local nonprofits, including the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, Charles Hall Youth Services, Bismarck Parkinson's Support Group and Ronald McDonald Care Mobile of North Dakota. Last year, the Bismarck Marathon raised $22,500 for local nonprofits. The organization hopes to raise double that this year.  

"We're just looking forward to a fun event and hoping a lot of people come out to support it," Erhardt said.

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Reach Andy Tsubasa Field at 701-250-8264 or andy.field@bismarcktribune.com.


City Government Reporter