Inspirational athlete overcomes major surgeries

Published: Feb. 23, 2016 at 2:00 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 24, 2016 at 2:46 AM EST
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PLANO, TX (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM) -- Recovering from heart or lung surgery takes strength and a great attitude, both of which are tough to muster after an operation. That is where a woman training for the Olympics is a huge help in one rehab facility.

Twice a day, almost every day, 26-year-old Kearci Smith pushes herself. She wants to make the Olympics as a triathlete. But when she is not exercising, Kearci is motivating other people recovering from major heart and lung surgeries.

Smith says, "Just listening to them, and being there for them, being a smile, being that hug when they come, that's what I do."

Pulmonary patient Shannon Keenan used to need four liters of oxygen a day, but now she only uses two. She boosted her endurance and her spirits thanks to Kearci, her exercise physiologist at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano.

Keenan says, "That inspires me, because I have to have joy in my life. I have enough junk going on otherwise if I don't have that little bit of sunshine. She is that little bit of sunshine on some days."

Smith is aiming high. If she does not make the U.S. Olympic team, she plans to turn pro. But today, she defines victory much differently.

"I hope to be the role model that young women look up to and also that older women are hopeful for the younger generation's future," says Smith. Which is why she, by all accounts, is already a gold medalist.

Qualifications for the 2016 Olympics in Rio have already come and gone, so Smith is aiming for the 2020 Olympics, which will give her more time to train. She says female triathletes usually peak in their late 20's or early 30's.

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