Emmitt Smith Is Giving Back Through His Favorite Hobby, Cycling

Emmitt Smith's annual Gran Fondo raises money for education.
Emmitt Smith's annual Gran Fondo raises money for education.
courtesy Emmitt Smith
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NFL Hall of Famer and all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith is hosting a single-day, multiclass cycling event later this month that will engage local and national professional cyclists, as well as weekend riders.

The former Dallas Cowboy, who is also a passionate cyclist, launched the annual Emmitt Smith Gran Fondo in 2016 with his wife, Pat.

The longest ride on the course is 100 miles, but there are routes of varying lengths to accommodate different skill levels: 100K, 45 miles, 22 miles and a 2-mile family ride. After the races is a festival with live entertainment.

The purpose of the Gran Fondo is to raise money for Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities, a public organization focused on education. Its Team 22 program in the North Dallas area provides children with leadership camps, long-term mentorship and chances to meet community and world leaders. The charity also partners with local organizations like Dallas ISD through its annual grant program and provides scholarships for college.

The Dallas Observer had the opportunity to speak with the three-time Super Bowl-winning running back to discuss cycling, his foundation and the outlook for the Cowboys' season.

Why did you decide to start your foundation?
We decided to relaunch the foundation because I had a charity prior to me getting married in 2000. I was involved in the community of Pensacola, Florida, and then transitioned my work efforts to Dallas. The foundation was put on halt, and I got engaged to my wife in 2000 and started a family. In 2010, right around the time I was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we decided to relaunch the foundation under a similar focus, and this allowed our children to be a part of the process.

What drew you to the sport of cycling?
Some of my past business associates were avid cyclists. They convinced me to purchase a bicycle of my own and join them during their morning rides. This would later lead to setting up opportunities for other employees in the company to build a solid camaraderie with the team. I love the freedom that cycling provides: the opportunity to be out in nature and that every ride can be different. It’s also a tremendous workout.

You created Team 22, a personal mentorship program designed to provide a multi-year curriculum for underserved students. Can you talk about some of the successes that have come out of this program?
A lot of the kids that we had to enter the program during the seventh grade were very shy, introverted, not very vocal or confident. But over time, after sending these children to Camp Champion, which is a place that teaches kids leadership skills, confidence-building techniques and challenges them to step out of their comfort zone, their sense of themselves really blossomed. At the end of the program, these children grew and built their confidences, and there was a broadening of their perspectives.

These children also had the opportunity to meet former President George W. Bush at his presidential library at Southern Methodist University and ask him questions. He discussed on a personal level the difficulties of being the leader of the free world and some of the pressures he faced during the time of September 11, 2001. At the time, some of our kids were 3 and 4 years old and never really understood what the event was all about.

This was the first time that they had the opportunity to talk to someone that oversaw the relief efforts. We also took these children to New York City and Washington, D.C., to meet former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. We wanted to expose our kids in the program to the cities where these events occurred so that they could incorporate them into life lessons. These children now have confidence and are willing to work hard to reach the American dream.

I understand that Pat & Emmitt Smith Charities is involved with Dallas ISD through an annual back-to-school uniform drive. Tell us how you are working with Dallas ISD to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.
We as an organization have had an outstanding relationship with the Dallas ISD for many years now. We just completed our back-to-school program at the end of August. The foundation supplied approximately 3,000 uniforms to students in the DISD district. Through our corporate partners, we were also able to provide haircuts, dental and vision screenings and food at this event.

In addition, with the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey, we have not only partnered with [the] JJ Watt charity, but we have allocated funding to help establish the individuals that have relocated from Houston and Louisiana to Dallas. DISD is starting to receive a lot of those families' children enrolled in the district, and they need our help to aid these families with uniforms, school supplies and more.

Have you thought about taking your foundation national as you are an international public figure?
We have thought about taking the foundation national, but we have some more work to do, and there is room for improvement. As a foundation, we are currently assessing new ideas to make our program better.

How do you like having a family-owned business?
From a charitable stand point, I think it is a great opportunity to have my family members participating because then they can see how fortunate we are in what we have. There are individuals out there that have the mental capacity but may not have the financial resources. So to be able to help bridge the gap or provide a pathway to assist kids to reach their full potential is rewarding. Having my children involved with this process teaches them how to be charitable, and they will be more receptive and aware of other people around them.

What are your thoughts about this season’s Cowboys, and where are their strengths?
I think this year’s Cowboys team has the potential to be great, but we do have some challenges. The defensive line must find a way to get pressure on the quarterback. I’m not completely sure our defensive front is as strong as it needs to be. We are facing challenges, but every other team in the NFL are dealing with their own difficulties on the field. We cannot afford to make too many mistakes and need to take advantage of all the opportunities that are presented to us.

Connect to Emmitt Smith on social media at @EmmittSmith22 and @SmithCharities.

Emmitt Smith Gran Fondo, Sept. 30; Dr Pepper Ballpark, 7300 Roughriders Trail, Frisco; emmittsmithgranfondo.com.

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