Nathan Smith (left) and Drew Verhoeven are teaming up to participate in the TRI Allegan sprint triathlon on Tuesday, July 21. (Photo provided)

Local pastor prepares for triathlon with special-needs teen

Jason Wesseldyk

Nathan Smith isn’t exactly sure how many triathlons in which he’s participated.
“I’d guess it’s somewhere between 10 and 20,” said Smith, who has competed in everything from sprint triathlons to Half Ironmans. “I’d say it’s probably right around a dozen or so.”
Smith is sure of one thing, however: His next triathlon will be unlike any of those previous ones.
Because when Smith takes part in the TRI Allegan sprint triathlon on Tuesday, July 21, he won’t be doing it alone. Rather, he’ll be doing it along with Drew Verhoeven, a 14-year-old living with muscular dystrophy.
“This one’s all about Drew,” Smith said. “It’s going to be special.”
Smith and Verhoeven met when Smith took over as pastor at First Baptist Church in Allegan late last year.
“After the church called me to be their pastor, we were having a meal and I was talking about doing some races and tris,” said Smith, who ran competitively in high school and college. “Drew’s dad, Keith, asked if I’d be willing to do something with Drew at some point.
“It was something I kept in the back of my mind and the TRI Allegan seemed like a natural fit with it being right here in town and everything.”
For Verhoeven, participating in the TRI Allegan is about much more than the race itself.
“To me, it’s about defeating MD and showing I’m just a normal kid who can face challenges and overcome them,” Verhoeven said. “I also want to inspire other people to get out there and face their own challenges.”
The nonprofit organization The Ride of Their Lives is helping facilitate Verhoeven’s participation in the race.
With a stated goal to “enrich the lives of children with disabilities through physical activity,” the organization will provide an inflatable kayak for the 500-meter swim, a cart for the 14-mile bike and a stroller for the 5k run.
“You have to be less than 70 pounds to use the equipment I’ll be using,” Verhoeven said. “I weigh 60 pounds, but I keep trying to tell Pastor Nate I gained 10 pounds and am too heavy now, just to mess with him.”
Smith takes Verhoeven’s joking in stride, viewing it from the good-natured perspective from which it was intended.
“I just hope Drew enjoys the day and has a good experience,” Smith said. “I want him to get out there and take in the whole experience. I want him to feel what it’s like in the water and feel the wind blowing in his hair on the bike ride. The run might get a little boring, but hopefully he enjoys that too.
“Basically, I just want everything to go well and create some great memories for Drew.”

For full story, pick up a copy of the July 16 issue of The Allegan County News or subscribe to the e-edition.

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