- Associated Press - Saturday, June 14, 2014

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - It’s been a while since she’s seen it, but Sarah Cira can still picture the turtle on the back of her father’s leg pumping in time with the bicycle pedals.

Perhaps an odd tattoo choice for a World Champion triathlete, but the turtle has followed Steve “Steve-O” Smith, a retired South Bend Adams High School teacher and swim coach, through a long and illustrious career.

Plus, the tattoo echoed his personal motto: “Always be the fastest turtle in the race.”

And for 30 years, Smith was.

He began his multi-sport venture in the early 1980s, grinding through races until he became one of the most decorated triathletes in his age group. His trophy room is peppered with tokens from 250 competitions, notably a dozen Kona Ironman World Championships and seven consecutive USA Triathlon National Championship titles.

“Growing up, it was the norm,” Cira, a Penn High School graduate, told The Elkhart Truth (http://bit.ly/1iwLJSu). “I didn’t really understand the scope of how good he was and how amazing he was until I became an adult and experienced for myself how difficult it was to compete at that level.”

While preparing to qualify for his 13th Kona Ironman, Smith’s storied career came to a grinding halt.

On April 24, 2012, Smith, now 66, was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, an inoperable brain tumor that typically carries a 15-month life expectancy.

Smith has been battling his cancer for nearly 26 months.

After hearing of his diagnosis, a few of Smith’s training partners kick-started the Racing for Steve-O foundation. They began collecting donations and selling wristbands and red ‘Steve-O’ t-shirts.

But instead of using the donations for treatment, Smith wanted the foundation to focus on getting Michiana special needs children involved in athletics.

During his Indiana Swimming & Diving Hall of Fame career at Adams, Smith coached a handful of special needs swimmers. He also helped out with the special education program, which Cira said was his favorite class to teach.

“I think he just had a soft spot in his heart for these kids,” Cira said. “He wanted something positive to come out of his illness.”

The Racing for Steve-O foundation is still in its early stages, but it already has plans to provide scholarships for special needs athletes to participate in recreational activities such as Reins of Life, Camp Millhouse and the Special Olympics.

Because Smith was unable to speak to The Elkhart Truth, his wife, Roxie, relayed his comments through email.

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