Lewis-Smallwood only getting better

Lewis-Smallwood only getting better

At 35, Gia Lewis-Smallwood is still going strong. The former Centennial and Illini athlete just won the U.S. discus title. Staff writer Bob Asmussen caught up with the 2012 Olympian, who was on a flight Thursday for upcoming meets in Paris and Glasgow, Scotland.

Tell me about your latest win.
It’s always a very competitive event. You want to make sure you train as hard as you can and try to give yourself every opportunity to get to the top. I was able to put it all together and it worked out well. It wasn’t a personal best, but it’s the best I’ve thrown this season. We knew there was a very, very good chance. I’ve been throwing well overseas and I’ve been throwing well in practice. We were expecting that performance.

That was your second win in a row at that meet.
Yes, I won last year in Des Moines, Iowa, at Drake and this year it was at Sacramento, Calif. It’s a top meet.

How much does winning there help your confidence as you continue to throw?
The big thing we are focusing on now is doing well overseas in major stadiums. It does help my confidence, but I still have to be ready to go these next few weeks. I can’t rest and say, “Yeah, we’re done.” It was part of the plan.

You have already competed in one Olympics. What are your plans for 2016?
I’m definitely going to the Olympic Trials in 2016. I would love to make the Olympic team. We’re working hard toward that goal. It is definitely looking likely.  

Have you been watching the World Cup to check out Brazil?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. There are so many people there right now who are enjoying Brazil and enjoying the World Cup. Brazil is a country that has a lot of character and has a lot of personality. It’s a beautiful place. We’re really excited to be able to go there in ‘16.

Could you throw a discus from Centennial to the proposed new Central site on Interstate Drive?
Probably not. Isn’t the new Central site super far away? I’m actually thrilled that Central is getting a new facility. That’s awesome for Central. I think it’s going to be great for Unit 4 and the students who go there.

You support the move?
Absolutely. Central is in a position where it can really expand the amount of kids who currently go to the school. With a bigger facility, they could provide more resources and offer more opportunities. I think they should do that. I am a huge Unit 4 advocate and supporter. I defend Unit 4. I believe in Unit 4.

What are you doing these days besides track?
I just am a professional athlete. In year’s past, I had a job. I had a lot of success last year. I just do track and field. I am also on the board of directors of an organization called Courage Connection. Courage Connection is the new name for the Center for Women in Transition. Between that and training that is pretty much what I do. I still help out a little bit with the Parkland volleyball team.

You are splitting time between Champaign and Alexis.
My husband (Tim) is going to take over the family farming business (in Alexis). But I’ll still be in Champaign all the time because my coach is here. No one will really notice I’ve moved.

You didn’t start throwing until later in your career. Do you think that helped you?
It does in the sense that I feel I’m really coming into my own and I’ve got a lot of miles in me before I can retire. When you start really early, by the time you are my age you are kind of over it mentally. Whereas I want to work on it all the time. I’m passionate about it. I love doing it. I love practicing it.

You finished 15th at London. How about a gold in Rio?
Last year at the World Championships I finished fifth. I missed medaling by a foot. I realize Rio is in 2016, but right now you need to continue to compete for the top three in the world. Next year, you have to try to medal in the World Championships. It’s what are you doing in the year leading up to Rio that create the likelihood that you are going to medal.

A lot of track stars have been trying the Winter Olympics. Will we see you in the bobsled some day?
No, you will not see me in the bobsled. At the Olympics, all the sprinters were talking about was how they were all trying out for the bobsled team. That’s not my deal. I can’t deal with cold and also any kind of downhill, we don’t get along. No winter sports.

Do the other throwers poke fun at you about your age?
Not really. The girl who is right underneath me in the world rankings, she is also my same age. This is the one thing you can be pretty doggone old and still throw well. It’s not like any of the other sports. Thirty-five is not like you are barely holding on by your fingernails. That’s the reason why I picked the discus. I knew I could have a very long career. You can throw in your mid- to late-30s and be very successful, People make a big deal about my age, but those are only the people who don’t know the sport well.

You don’t look 35.
Thank you very much. That’s awesome.

If the track thing doesn’t work out, you are old enough to be president. And there is an opening coming.
No, no. Once I’m done with competing, my next stage is getting a master’s in kinesiology and working with cardiac cath patients. That’s what I want to do.

How involved are you with the Illinois track program today?
My coach (Mike Turk) is the head men’s coach. I see the men’s team, women’s team all the time. I’m very well connected with them and love them and support them. They do great things.

Are you sad that Tonja Buford-Bailey left for Texas?
That was a heartbreaker. I know her very well. Her heart will always bleed orange and blue. When you are in the coaching world, opportunities and different things come up. You have to go where your heart leads you. But at the end of the day, she will always be loyal and loving and devoted to Illinois. Illinois gave her her start and was her foundation.

Tell me about your family.
My husband is Tim. I was born and raised in Champaign. My parents are still here and I have a brother. One of the things that has kept me in the sport so long is that I am from Champaign. There have been so many people who have been so wonderful and helpful. Even when I wasn’t as good as I am now, they helped me stay in the sport. They provided opportunties. This is such a unique and wonderful place. It’s a great place for somebody to chase their dreams. I loved my experience in Champaign.