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Charlotte woman completes marathon in all 50 states: 'It was amazing'

There aren't a lot of Black women who have run a marathon in all 50 states. Debbie Smith has, and she says it's all thanks to a group she helped start 20 years ago.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A Charlotte woman celebrating an incredible accomplishment — running a marathon in all 50 states — said she owes it all to the Black women's run club she helped start 20 years ago. 

Traditionally, there aren't a lot of Black women runners and there is only a handful who have accomplished what Debbie Smith did. She credits an amazing sisterhood for its friendship and the perseverance to see it through.

It takes a lot to organize 50 medals, and that's exactly what Smith is doing after completing a marathon in every state.

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"This is my first," she said, pointing out the award that served as the starting line for an ambitious goal. "This is the one we ran together in California ... was supposed to be flat and it was not."

The 58-year-old Smith, who works as a counselor for cancer patients, didn't set out to run so many marathons. Instead, she had a much simpler goal — running a 5K, or 3.1 miles. But when she finished that race and stayed to help pass out water to runners going the distance, she got an idea. 

"We were noticing the runners," she said. "They were all ages, all sizes and they were doing the marathon." 

Smith and a few friends formed a running group for Black women in the area to encourage healthy lifestyles. 

"We tend to not take care of ourselves, we take care of everybody else," Smith said. 

She co-founded the Ebony Eagles, a group of Black women who run together weekly in Charlotte and support each other at big races. 

"They help you believe in what's possible," Corrie Pauling said. "Not only because of how they encourage you, but because of the example they set."

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Pauling and Smith ran the grueling Boston Marathon with two other Ebony Eagles in 2018. 

"You almost have to pinch yourself," Pauling said. "How did I have the great fortune to meet these ladies? They're friends, sisters, inspirations."

Pauling and a big group traveled to Hawaii to support Smith in her milestone marathon. It was the final one to complete the entire U.S. 

"It was amazing," Smith said. "You meet all kinds of people, you get to see the United States." 

But it was her special crew that was there when the mother of two crossed the finish line of her 63rd marathon that put it all in perspective. 

"The group was there at the end with the signs, it was amazing," Smith said. "I know that was going to be my finish. You can't top that."

Now that she's completed her goal of running a marathon in every state, what does Smith plan to do for an encore? She's shifting gears, telling WCNC Charlotte she plans to walk more, not run. And she's learning to play the piano.

Contact Michelle Boudin at mboudin@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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