Cyclist Stacia Smart talks about her "G'Owen Strong Tour" and shares the impact Owen Strong ’07 had on her life and lives of many others
Listen to this chapel talk here:
Hello everyone, and thank you so much for having me at St. Andrew’s today and for welcoming me as though it were Owen coming to visit St Andrew’s. I’m still buzzing from the welcome you gave me yesterday afternoon. That energy will fuel me for not only the next 550 miles of my cycling journey, but for years to come.
I’m so grateful to be here, and am humbled to have the opportunity to speak in this very room.
My name is Stacia Smart, I’m 27 years old and currently live in Sleepy Hollow, New York, the Halloween capital of America.
I am here before you because of my late boyfriend, Owen Strong, who sat in your seat not too long ago. He and his family have changed my life.
Owen grew up in New York City and attended St. Andrew’s [as a member of the] Class of 2007. He adored St. Andrew’s, and I adored hearing his stories from his time spent here.
I met Owen on my birthday in 2018. That day also happened to be a Halloween party. I was a cat with rhinestone cat ears and Owen was The Big Friendly Giant.
I was sitting on his best friend’s couch, who I had met only an hour before, engrossed in conversation. From my peripheral I see the door open. I turn my head, and I’m stopped in my tracks as I’m the recipient of Owen’s soul-shining, radiant smile. Who is this guy? I had to know.⠀
Five weeks later, on December 7, we were hanging out at his apartment and he breaks the news that he has glioblastoma.
How is that even possible? I was shattered, in disbelief, and he seemed relieved that I knew what it was so he didn’t have to explain it to me. I lost my Uncle Zeke to the same disease, so I knew the reality and severity of the situation Owen was in.
There is no known cure for glioblastoma and the survival rate is 12-18 months.
Having already fallen for Owen, I told myself that the universe wouldn’t put me in a situation I didn’t know how to navigate or handle. I decided right then and there I wouldn’t leave his side. I was all in.
While beset by the disease, Owen remained his whimsical, pensive, goofy, kind, generous, considerate, and ardent self.
We spent our time falling in love. We would decorate cookies, dance to James Taylor, listen to Harry Potter audio books, play Catan with friends, visit our favorite place in upstate New York on the weekends, and simply get lost in each other’s presence.
Time was precious and we cherished each day as though it was our last. On January 11, 2020 in the neuro-oncology ICU at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, he passed away.
In my effort to help with the tsunami of suffering that came along with Owen’s passing, I dedicated myself to a year and a half of cycling training, and established a fundraiser called “G’Owen Strong”.
I wanted to do an 1,100 mile solo cycling ride along the East Coast to raise funds for brain cancer research in Owen’s name, intersecting at places of significance to Owen.
Once again, I went all in. I began, and am still, working with a world-renowned cycling coach named Noah Middlestaedt.
He put me on a training plan for six days a week, which I fit in while also working full time in corporate communications at Estee Lauder Companies.
For the last year and a half, my bike and stationary trainer have gone everywhere with me. Literally everywhere. I’d fly it across the country to Colorado and Wyoming to train, drive it up to the countryside of New York on the weekends (the place Owen loved most dearly), and across many other state lines.
Everyone who knows me knows my bike comes with me and has graciously made accommodations to ensure I have the space to train.
The ride has finally arrived. I’ve ridden 550 miles since kicking off at Owen’s college alma mater, traversed New York City, and am now visiting with you.
It has certainly been a test, but I know, thanks to Owen, it is nothing that I cannot handle.
While I had initially taken to riding longer distances on my bike when Owen was still sick (it was, after all, a way for me to cope with the fear and pain I felt about the future), it also became a way for me to challenge myself, invigorate myself, pursue my passion, and celebrate life. And of course, Owen was always so supportive.
There were many days when I didn’t want to do the grueling workout my coach had prescribed. It’s really hard sometimes to have the motivation to carry onward when your goal seems so far away and you’re being pulled in many directions.
But, I would remind myself of the end goal that would bring me back to the present. Back to the purpose of what each workout represented. Back to the positive impact I hope G’Owen Strong will have on others.
So at the end of the day, the purpose of G’Owen Strong is not only to raise money with the goal of improving the lives of those affected by glioblastoma.
It is also about paying Owen’s gifts forward: creating a positive impact wherever possible, and ultimately, making the most of what this life has to offer.
Thank you for letting me share his legacy with you today.