Shandelier “Shandy” Boyd Smith is a former collegiate and professional athlete — a five-time hall-of-fame sprinter, hurdler and long-jumper — who grew up in the West End. Now she’s the health education and policy community health navigator for the Louisville Urban League, where she works with clients, organizations and the public on health issues facing Louisville’s African American community. As if that weren’t enough, she’s also the director of the future West End Sports and Education Complex in Russell. The project, conceived and managed by the Urban League, will break ground in 2019 and the League hopes to have it completed by 2020. We sat down with Shandy to chat about her keys to success and found she’s quiet, but warm and really fun.
Tell me about your life and running career.
I am originally from Louisville and grew up in the West End. I went away to college to Ohio State University, and then I ran professionally after that. I then came back home and was still supposed to be running — I was still in the contract with Mizuno, and I just I walked away from it. It was time for me to grow up and know who Shandy was without track, because I had been running my whole life.
I just kind of went on a spiritual journey, and I’m still on my journey. I worked at Humana for 13 years. I actually participated in a volunteer opportunity at Humana called Wellness Champions. That’s what really inspired me to understand my passion, and I found that it was health — health, fitness and nutrition. I went back to school to get my master’s in health and wellness counseling, and then I went on to Anthem for two years. I found, though, that there was no purpose in this for me. That’s how I ended up at the Urban League. I just remember praying that I wanted to be in a role where I could really be in front of a community, be in front of people, and inspire them. That’s how this role as a community health navigator came about.
Tell me what you do at the Urban League.
Every day is different, and I love that. Our program at the Urban League is health education and policy. We focus on the social determinants of health, which is homelessness, food insecurity, joblessness, that sort of thing. We sit down one-on-one and discover clients’ needs and goals and what barriers they face, and we help them connect the dots and connect them with resources and services in the community. It’s a ministry for me because, again, a lot of the people we deal with are disadvantaged. I find pleasure in just being able to open their minds to the possibilities. There’s this other side to just looking at it in a holistic way. I know that those things that stress people out — poverty, food insecurity, etc. — kill people no differently than some of the other traditional illnesses that somebody may have.
What do you like about your job?
Meeting different people. Even when I was running and traveling overseas for running, I’ve always loved meeting different people and getting to know them, because it’s easy to judge a book by its cover. I think my job has really humbled me — to be able to sit down with somebody who, honestly, I probably would have normally been judgmental about. It’s finding out interesting things about people and humanity in general. It puts me in a different perspective, to say everybody is valuable, and I’m learning that with this position.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Using whatever time you have to put clients in a different mind frame that: It’s going to be OK. This is temporary. I’m going to be able to help you, but you’ve gotta engage with me as well. That’s probably the most challenging.
What one piece of advice would you give someone who is struggling to get on the path to health and fitness?
To just get started. I have to tell myself these things everyday, because the older I get, I have to motivate myself. But if you start now, then you get to add years to your life, and you can be better prepared for what is to come. It’s never too late. Just do simple things like drink water. That’s free! Walk. That’s free! That’s easy. You don’t have to be doing all these biometrics. That’s what I hear: “I’m not like you,” and I’m like, “You don’t have to be! You’re not supposed to be me! You do what you can at your pace.”
Do you have a mentor?
I think my mentors don’t know that they’re mentors. Right now I would have to say Sadiqah Reynolds, president of the Urban League, certainly is. Just seeing her in action inspires me. Seeing her passion, seeing her compassion for the work or the individuals that we serve, and even that she’s just a caring person and just watching her work ethic — it amazes me. And anytime she speaks, it’s like, “Wow!”
Then I have another who is a really good friend of mine, Michael Ford Jr. and his wife Andrea Ford. They have a nonprofit called Master Builders Academy that helps people in the community build self worth, personal development, professional development, investment, that sort of thing. He’s really good about pulling people in and keeping them motivated. I’ve had a track coach, but now I need a life coach. He’s that — he’s my life coach.
What do you do for fun?
Spend time with my boys. I have 12-year-old Xavier in middle school and then a third-grader, Canaan, who is 9. It’s just fun watching them grow. And I love to travel and read.
Do you have any hobbies?
I love crafting when I get the chance. I think I get impatient, because a lot of my mind is so fast-paced — it’s the runner in me. But I’m learning how to slow down and enjoy everything. I enjoy seeing it come together with peace in the process. I could stay in Hobby Lobby all day. I don’t even have to buy anything, but most of the time I do!
What do you like to read?
Anything really inspirational. My husband just bought me Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. I’m really excited about that. I have a love of physical books. I know I have a problem. When I see a good book, I’ve gotta get it.
Do you still run?
Off and on. I try to think of other ways to do self-care. But yeah, I still do longer distances — nothing short or fast. When I want freedom, that’s the thing that I go to.
What’s your best advice?
People need to become more self-aware. The more self-aware you are, the more you — the authentic you — can show up in the world. And not this façade or what you see on Facebook … that’s not real. If everybody did their part with that, I think the world would be a better place, because then they would be focused on their goals and their purpose in the world. I think we would have a happier world.
With the exception of faith, family and friends, name three things you can’t live without.
Health, connections with other people and positivity.
Thank you, Shandy! To learn more about her work with the Louisville Urban League, visit lul.org.
And thank you to Gretchen Bell for these beautiful photos.
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