Garrett Andrews

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July 4, 2014
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Neighbors: Roseburg's Gordon Smith, 78, works out, doesn't make excuses

This is another story about an old person staying young by working out. But Gordon Smith isn’t just any old man working out.

The 78-year-old is almost completely blind, and the workouts he does would scare men half his age.

Twice a week, the longtime operator of the Douglas County Courthouse’s Justice Cafe does strength and conditioning workouts at CrossFit Roseburg, and three times a week takes spin class at the Roseburg YMCA.

He’s lost 30 pounds since beginning a fitness push three years ago, and the Roseburg man says his balance and leg strength have improved considerably.

Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:30 a.m. on the dot Smith is in his workout clothes, and soon enough, he’s breathing out his mouth with the rest of his class — by the look of them, mainly twenty- and thirty-somethings.

With a spotter close by, Smith does “box jumps” during his circuits, hopping onto a stack of weights, then back down.

“It sounds easy if you’re young,” said Jasmine Guyer, one of Smith’s five grandchildren.

She’s in the same CrossFit class as her grandpa.

“It’s been crazy to watch him do the things he’s doing,” Guyer said. “He is amazing.”

CrossFit is a combination of weightlifting, gymnastics and cardio “all thrown into an ever-changing mix of workouts,” explained Dave Powell, owner of CrossFit Roseburg.

Powell has customized several CrossFit exercises for Smith. He modified a jump-rope Smith can use without tripping. Instead of running with the rest of the class, Smith heads to a stationary bike or rowing machine. With Smith unable to perform weighted front or back squats, he does quick sit-and-stands while holding a weight. In place of other lifts, Smith swings kettle bells.

Powell, a former semi-pro baseball player, has seen people succeed at CrossFit who have been paralyzed or are missing limbs.

“We have a saying around the gym, ‘CrossFit is for everyone. Not everyone is for CrossFit.’”

But he said he hasn’t seen a case like Smith’s in the four years he’s been open.

Smith’s vision was fine growing up in Oregon and California. He married his wife, Karen, and became an X-ray technician at Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford. He first noticed vision problems while doing dark room work in 1959. He was in his late 20s.

A combination of iritis and glaucoma began claiming his sight and, more importantly to him, his independence.

One day in 1968 he pulled over after nearly causing an accident three blocks from his destination. He hasn’t driven since.

Smith described the “smoky” scene he sees most days, and how walking into a bright room can be overpowering. Still, he doesn’t complain about what must be difficult.

“It is, of course, but I’ve just tried to do the best I can. We all have to move on and not sit around and feel sorry for ourselves.”

Through a federal program for the blind, Gordon and Karen Smith began leasing the cafeteria and candy store at the Douglas County Courthouse in 1982. Today, each weekday, one or both of them still walk from their Maple Street house to Smith’s Justice Cafe.

Three years ago, Gordon Smith saw that years of soda were taking their toll. He’d been laid-up following surgeries for one knee and two hip replacements, and it was easy to lose track of his weight.

“After a while you don’t notice,” he said.

So Smith started spin class at the YMCA and for three years now he’s biked 20 miles three days a week. If he closely follows another cyclist, he can even bike on roads.

Jasmine Guyer remembers her grandfather always as a vital man who never let his disability define him. He ran marathons and regularly joined the family in weeklong rafting trips. He was a serious bowler until recently.

Karen and Gordon Smith are longtime members of Wellspring Church and have two children, Shane and Shelly, who became Navy medics.

Smith asked that one thing be included in this story: “It takes other people to do the things I’ve been able to do. Whether it’s family or friends, they’ve all helped me. Other people have just been super in allowing me to do the things I’ve wanted to do.”

• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at

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The News-Review Updated Jul 10, 2014 06:18PM Published Jul 7, 2014 10:44AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.