Life-altering decisions do not come around often, and when they do, it is likely that a lot of thinking has preceded them.
As of late, Ryan Smithers has been spending a lot of time contemplating what led up to him coming out to cross-country at the start of his junior year.
A lifelong soccer player, Smithers took a risk in pursuing a sport he had always known he had a passion for. Even though it was late in the game, Smithers knows now that he made the right decision for himself.
The Laguna Beach High senior placed himself firmly on the recruiting radar in winning the CIF Southern Section Division 4 final in 14 minutes 46.1 seconds, leading his Breakers to the team title in the process on Nov. 17.
It is the middle of the college application season, and Smithers has been writing about how his upbringing factored into him summoning the courage to make his own choices.
Born from surrogacy, Smithers and his twin sister, Claire, went home to live with two fathers — Joe and Michael.
Smithers said it has been a loving home, and only with maturity did he realize that his family might be different. A fear that he could be judged for that difference had Smithers keeping the story of his parents to himself early on.
The connection between his personal life and his life as an athlete is that he learned not to care what others thought of him. He grew to do that which he loved, that which served his own self interests.
“Understanding that I can’t satisfy the needs or wants of other people,” Smithers said of what he discusses in his college essays. “Instead, I have to focus on what I want to do. I connected that to dropping my lifelong sport of soccer to pursue what I kind of knew I loved deep down, which is cross-country.
“I think I’ve grown from not really focusing on what other people want or expect from me, but more what I want to do and how I conduct myself.
“That’s exactly why I tried cross-country and look how well it has turned out. Thank goodness I listened to what I wanted to do.”
A laser-like focus is something that Smithers had come to be defined by. He plans to pursue a STEM major in college, so perhaps he will work with lasers in the future.
Breakers coach Scott Wittkop admires Smithers for his steadiness and dependability.
“Ryan just gets after it,” Wittkop said. “He is as blue-collar as you can get when it comes to work. He shows up every day. You know exactly what you’re going to get out of him.
“You don’t worry about him going home and eating junk. You know that he is going to get to bed as soon as he can. You know all of his homework is going to be done. He’s just Mr. Reliable.”
Laguna Beach moved into the Sunset Conference this season. Although the Breakers got placed in the Wave League, the conference’s lower division, Smithers ran step-for-step in a runner-up showing against Newport Harbor’s Alexis Garcia in a matchup of two all-state performers from the 2017 campaign.
Both were crowned league champions, Garcia for the Surf League and Smithers for the Wave League.
Logan Brooks, a junior transfer from Santa Rosa South Walton in Florida, said that exceptional performances are the expectation for Smithers. He was not surprised when he saw Smithers blow past JSerra’s Anthony Grover and Peter Herold with 800 meters to go.
“It didn’t really surprise me about what he did,” Brooks said. “I saw him doing it, and I thought, ‘That’s amazing.’ That’s great, but it didn’t surprise me. I knew that he is just the kind of guy who does stuff like that.”
The 800-meter mark has significance. Wittkop calls that “Break Point,” or the spot that the Breakers give everything that they have left in them the rest of the way.
Smithers believes that giving maximum effort is a must in order to get something out of any activity one participates in. He appreciates the commitment of his team, and it showed when the Breakers put six in the top 13 at the CIF finals.
“In my eyes, I would much rather be on a very disciplined team than a team that doesn’t put in the effort,” Smithers said. “The time that I put into the sport, I want it to be worthwhile. Doing all this core stuff, doing all this stretching, doing all these workouts, I really try to put my effort into it because I don’t want to not get anything back in return.”
As of the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the return was worth it indeed. Laguna Beach captured its first state title since 2009, defeating San Anselmo Sir Francis Drake 68-97 for the Division IV crown at Woodward Park in Fresno. Smithers was the runner-up, finishing with a time of 15:27.8.
Born: May 31, 2001
Hometown: Laguna Beach
Height: 5 feet 7
Weight: 130 pounds
Coach: Scott Wittkop
Favorite food: Chobani yogurt with granola
Favorite movie: “Skyscraper”
Favorite athletic moment: Smithers said he is not known for having a great kick to end races, but he turned around with 400 meters to go and saw a big gap between himself and the chase pack in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 final on Nov. 17.