Do Better. Be Better.

do betterBy: Annebeth Ahrenholz

On Oct. 25, 2013, P.E. teacher Jamie Smith suffered a stroke in the Pons area of her brain stem. At this time in her life, she was 15-weeks pregnant with her fourth daughter, Myah. It was caused by a cavernoma malformation, which is a cluster of abnormal blood vessels.

“My condition is very rare; only .05 percent of the general population have it. It is also very serious because it is located in the Pons, which is where the 12 cranial nerves pass through,” Smith said. All of those nerves are responsible for basic bodily functions, so even the smallest stroke could cause significant damage.

“I never had surgery to remove it because it was deemed too risky, so since it is still hanging out in my head, I could have another stroke at any time,” Smith said

Now, two years later, Smith is doing well, but now she has a heightened focus to “do better” and “be better.” With her life and with the help of her family and friends, she has created the Do Better. Be Better. organization and scholarship fund. “The principal, leadership team and a few of my high school classmates from my alma mater of Dunkerton started the color run to raise funds for a scholarship called “Do Better. Be Better,” in honor of me.  As they were planning it, they thought it would be a great idea to collaborate with CF and also have a scholarship here too,” Smith said.

They raise funds for families suffering from medical emergencies, and they award a graduating senior from Dunkerton and Cedar Falls a scholarship each year. Dunkerton is Smith’s hometown. Each May, Smith awards a scholarship to a graduating senior from Dunkerton and CF.

As a way to promote healthy choices and raise money for the organization, on Oct. 3, Smith, the Student Senate and other supporting groups will be hosting the second annual Do Better. Be Better. color dash at Pfeiffer Park at 9 a.m. This is a 5K race, with all proceeds going to the Do Better. Be Better. organization. There is a $20 race registration fee that will be bumped up to $30 the day of the race. All of the money raised will be going to the Do Better. Be Better. Scholarship funds at Dunkerton and Cedar Falls. Last year, the scholarship at each school was $400. “The turnout was good last year, but I am expecting an even bigger one this year,” Smith said.

Smith said she is very grateful for the immense amount of support, kindness and generosity that her family and her experienced after her stroke. “It inspired my personal motto, Do Better. Be Better. The color run and golf benefit that were organized in my honor the fall of 2014 and the never ending support that I got from my gym, Next Level Extreme Fitness, sparked in me the desire to give back,” she said

By this time, her daughter, Myah was here safe and sound, and she was ready to do more.

“I partnered with Next Level Extreme Fitness and Spread the Care non-profit and the Do Better. Be Better. organization was born.”

Every 10 weeks, Smith organizes and implements fundraising activities to raise funds for families suffering from medical emergencies.

“Since the organization was started in January, we have gifted 12 families $1,000.

Student Senate will be there the day of the race helping out with the race. They have been preparing for this day by hanging up fliers and distributing brochures around town.

Anyone who knows Smith has nothing but kind words to say about her. Senior Megan Bradford has played a big role in Student Senate the past three years and has been helping a lot with the upcoming race. “After going through something so terrifying and life altering, Mrs. Smith still continues to put others before herself. She not only aspires to help others but does it with the most positive attitude. With the money from this race, we are giving back to those in need and hoping to show them that we do care and want to help.”

Health and PE teacher Megan Youngkent also has uplifting things to say about Smith. She shares an office with Smith in the school, but they are extremely close friends outside of school, as well. She has been there through everything that has happened and continues to stand by and support Smith.

“I remember like it was yesterday getting the call from Patrick (Mrs. Smith’s husband) that she had had a stroke.  He could barely speak, and I couldn’t really comprehend that it had really happened.  When I went to visit her, and seeing what I saw compared to the teacher you all see now, I am convinced that she is the most determined, strong-willed fighter I’ve ever met. We were very good friends before, but when you see your dear friend fight like she has fought, and also turn this event into a way to help others (with her Do Better. Be Better. campaigns) the amount of respect you have for that person is immeasurable.  As you figure out life, you try to surround yourself with good people that make you want to be a better person. I’ve got a wonderful example of how life should be led, and I get to share an office with her every day at school.”

Smith’s stroke and condition has completely changed her life.

“Personally, I am much more laid back and joyful. I stop and enjoy the little things and realize the beauty in everything. I do not let worry overtake me or hold on to anger. I am quick to compliment others and tell them what they mean to me.”

Youngkent sees Smith striving each day to impact and help those around her. “Mrs. Smith has chosen to take a scary situation and turn it into a way to help others.  She is constantly thinking of new ways that she can fundraise for others while making it fun and memorable for those donating.  She has a knack for seeing where there is a need and is relentless in trying to find ways to help them.

Smith said she is overjoyed and happy to have the life that she has, and does not take anything for granted. “I am incredibly lucky that I am alive, that Myah is alive and that we are both doing so well. That is an incredible gift to be given, so I live every day as the blessing it truly is.”

Through this whole experience, Smith’s perspective has been changed quite a bit, and she has an even bigger understanding of how much family means to her, and she wants to motivate her children to live life to the fullest.

“I involve my kids in all of the fundraising events. We talk about why they are organized, and I read them the stories of who we help.  It is been an amazing way to teach our girls that the world is so much bigger than them, but they can and should be a major piece of that world.”

Smith said she genuinely feels that she has found purpose through this whole experience.

“I would have never taken philanthropy and advocacy to this level without having had my stroke.  I would have never met the type of amazing people that I have or formed as solid of friendships.  I feel like I have found purpose to my life. I was meant to struggle and be shown the power of God through all the people that helped us so that I could understand how to help others who are struggling. I cannot cure anyone or take away all their worry, but I can be a bright light in their day and give them a little bit of hope. And I can speak firsthand to how powerful hope is.”

She said she has learned a lot about herself through this whole process. “The biggest change in my life is that I actively try to do better and be better every day.”

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