The instructor also has a reputation for inspiring those in her classes through her life and example, and the fitness class members recently sold T-shirts that proclaim “I Survived Irene” to show how much they think of her and to raise funds for her husband’s memorial fund, friend Tiffany Bird said.
“Not only is she helping people get in shape, train for races and events, and lose weight, but she also inspires and motivates them in her classes,” said Bird. “She has memorable sayings in her class that motivate people as they work out, but also inspires them in their daily lives.”
Barron Smith died in November 2012 when he fell from a ladder while cutting down a tree at the couple’s home in the White community of Cherokee County. More than 700 friends and family mourned his death.
“Since his passing, Irene has tried to carry on her life and keep working at the YMCA. Everyone in her class are inspired by her,” Bird said.
In just a few days, more than 80 men and women purchased a shirt to support Smith, Bird said.
“Just about anyone who goes to the YMCA in Canton knows Irene. She is so friendly and always talking and getting to know people and their families,” Bird said. “She takes time to get to know the people who come to her classes and she teaches over 100 people a week.”
Smith says teaching at the Y has been a big part of what has kept her going and that the support she has received from her students and her fellow staff members has helped see her through the tragic loss.
She teaches TRX training, personal training, sculpting, cycling, Pilates, step and aqua aerobics.
“They are just amazing, incredible people who add a lot to me just by giving me their positive energy,” Smith said. “It is great to have work, and to have work that has a positive energy. They were shocked that I was surprised, but I was totally clueless, that might be because of my state of mind.”
Smith said a lot of her students are regulars, and come to all of her classes throughout the week. She said the fact they took the time to get the T-shirts done was a great surprise.
“It was very touching; sometimes you can go through the motions and you don’t know if it is making a difference, and that was so touching that they told me in that way that what I do matters to them,” Smith said.
Her friend agrees it is a great relationship.
“I’ve talked to people who have said that if she ever stopped teaching at the YMCA, they would leave to follow her wherever she went,” Bird said. “Her classes are hard but so effective. Yet, she makes it possible for people at any fitness level to join her class.
Bird said that people in their 20s up to those in their 70s and 80s enjoy Smith’s classes.
“They all relate to her and cherish her because she has made such an impact on people’s lives and their physical bodies,” Bird said.
Smith said after the accident, many people asked her if she was going to stay in Cherokee County, because she is not from the area and her parents live in New Jersey and one son is in college in Utah and the other is a missionary for his church in Chile.
“A lot of people initially asked mew hat I was going to do, and I had my own epiphany, kind of real quickly, and decided that I wanted to stay here,” Smith said. “God knew this was going to happen and had been surrounding me with great people, even if they are not family. I have a treat support system, this is where I feel at home.”
Irene says that the T-shirts continue to inspire her.
“It was hugely surprising, touching and comforting. It has been a real lift and it helps to look back at the pictures, or see the shirts,” she said. “It is a fun reminder that I am surrounded by amazing people and you are never really alone.”