Age doesn't stop Vail's tireless volunteer and runner.
By Larry Grossman
You have seen him around the Vail Valley. More than likely, wherever you have seen him, he has had a grand smile on his face and probably said hello to you or asked if you needed help with anything.
His quiet but helpful nature has been influenced by the likes of his five sisters, “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peal, Zig Ziglar and legendary college basketball coach John Wooden, who taught him to always do his best, be honest, fair, friendly, and have a positive attitude. The minute you meet Marlin Smickley and his striking, white, full head of hair and super fit physique, you will see how all of these influences have helped shape this man into a person beloved by so many in the valley.
At age 72, he is also known for his athletic endeavors in the mountainous terrain of Eagle County. This past weekend, he competed in one of the toughest tests in the Vail Recreation District trail running series, the La Sportiva Vail Half Marathon. It was the fourth race in the seven-race series, zig-zagging around Vail Mountain and topping out at Eagle’s Nest.
The long and winding road
Smickley was born and grew up in eastern Pennsylvania, very close to the base of the Appalachian and Pocono mountains. Once through his school years, Smickley served for three years in the United States Army, and then had a very interesting position with the CIA decoding and encoding messages as a cryptographer. However, he soon realized that he did no get along with all of the secrecy. From his top secret work with the CIA, he moved on to earn a teaching degree at East Straudsburg University in Pennsylvania and taught elementary education as well as gifted and learning disabled over the next 33 years.
Upon retirement, Smickley decided to move to the Vail Valley and has now been living his dream for 12 years. He was introduced to Vail when he came out to visit friends that he had previously taught with and immediately fell in love with the mountains and the climate.
Through much of his journey, Smickley has been a runner. Prior to moving to the west, he ran for exercise and recreation. Through the race series in Vail, he fell in love with the trails. Now he has been a regular character at each of the past 12 years at all of the Vail Rec District trail running races. At the half marathon last week, Smickley couldn’t even tell you how he placed – that’s not really the point, for him.
“I really enjoyed the half marathon,” he says. “The scenery was beautiful as well as the weather. My breathing felt good as well as my legs – no pains or aches. The best part of the run is the singletrack. The trees and rocks give off so much energy. It’s a spiritual experience!”
Stay busy, keep it simple
Smickley is one of the very familiar faces you will see at many of the Vail Rec District events working as a volunteer. For him, it’s a way to give back from his many blessings.
“(I’m) so blessed to live here in this beautiful valley with so many gifts and blessings, especially with my perfect health,” he says.
Just of few of his other interests include reading, gardening and pilates. He tries to maintain his perfect health by continuing to run, hike and bike in the summer and Nordic ski in the winter. Believe it or not, on top of his busy recreational lifestyle, he also owns a small property management company.
Like most of us that live here in Eagle County, the great appeal of the outdoors is what keeps him busy, but he adds that he has embraced are the “friendly, courteous, caring and helpful people” who live here. And many of them would say the same about him.
“Marlin is a true inspiration,” says Beth Pappas of the Vail Recreation District. “To be his age and so full of life and energy is amazing. He volunteers at every VRD bike race, then he is out participating in every one of our trail running events and even helps us tear down after he runs. He brings us homemade chocolate on a regular basis and is truly a joy to be around. We are so lucky to have someone like this in our community and our lives.”