This month, we launched the Spartan Spirit Awards, celebrating the people who truly embody the key Spartan values: grit, determination, and perseverance. To celebrate Mother’s Day, this month’s Spirit Awards winners are all superhero Spartan moms who navigate life’s obstacles—and help their families do so, too—every day. Find out what they have to say about their personal journeys.
It’s not every day you hear about American women going up against the U.S. Military. But Tiffany Smiley, 38, from Pasco, WA, defied the government in a big way—and won.
Tiffany’s husband Scotty, a seasoned Army infantry specialist, was leading a 45-man platoon near Mosul, Iraq in 2005 when a suicide bomber blew up a car near him. Shrapnel penetrated Scotty’s eyes, leaving him blind, temporarily paralyzed, and unconscious until he woke up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. a week later.
Smiley resigned from her nursing job to meet him at Walter Reed and aid his lengthy recovery process. During this time, the U.S. Military issued orders for Scotty to de-enlist. She adamantly refused to sign the papers on behalf of her husband, insisting that he be allowed to recover and make the decision for himself. “This bought me time to build a team of helpers who believed in my vision for Scotty,” says Tiffany. “Ultimately, Scotty recovered and became the first blind active-duty officer to serve our nation—all because I had a crazy idea that he might still be able to serve!”
Scotty continued serving as the nation’s first blind active-duty officer until he retired in 2015. With his wife’s support, he also went on to race an IronMan, climb Mount Rainier, and graduate from Duke University with his MBA. Together they’re raising three boys: Grady, 11 years old, Graham, 9, and Brady, 6, all of whom Scotty has never physically been able to see.
In 2010, the Smileys co-founded Hope Unseen, a business that leverages their story to inspire and encourage others in the face of hardships. Scotty published a book, Hope Unseen, and Tiffany passionately uses her side of their journey to help women find joy and strength in struggle through speaking engagements and meaningful content on MoreThanMe.com.
Read on for more on Smiley’s inspiring journey towards finding hope once more in her own words.
SPARTAN RACE: Why was it important to you to not have to de-enlist Scotty?
TIFFANY SMILEY: I knew immediately that it was going to take a holistic approach to getting Scotty well again. I knew he would still need purpose, and I did not want to be the person to take that away from him. I was fierce and had to stand my ground at every turn. It was all-consuming, but I also made a promise to myself that I would help others when I could. I had to get Scotty well again, myself well again, and then I was able to advocate nationally for all our veterans, spouses, and caregivers. This experience taught me to never let your circumstances silence you and to always fight for what you know is right. It might not always be popular or understood, but if you stand your ground and stand for truth and goodness, no one can stop you.
SR: What has being a caregiver for your husband been like for you?
TS: As a nurse by trade, I was naturally good at helping others. But this whole experience took a toll on me. I moved eight times in 10 years. I had three beautiful boys born in different cities and states. My husband is blind, so I would wake up early and get the kids out of bed. I would work on our business in between taking him to work and picking him up. And then I would wake up and do it all over again.
I was totally committed to making sure that no one undervalued us or put us in a box. I worked hard to make sure that people only saw abilities and not disabilities, and I made sure my boys only saw what were all capable of. I never made excuses, never complained. And it caught up to me because I was not taking care of myself.
SR: At what point did you decide to make a change in your life?
TS: The grief [of my husband’s injuries] was very hard to go through, but I knew it was necessary to get through to the other side, so I could help others. My health was put on the back burner for many years, but that is not sustainable. Once I processed the grief, I began to realize that I need to make changes. Exercise, and my physical and mental health became a top priority so I could continue to grow and maximize not only our businesses but also to help others. And once I re-structured, my whole life changed for the better. We actually became more efficient, effective, and have grown by leaps and bounds. Nothing is impossible. But I had to be strong enough to ask for help, which was very difficult.
SR: What inspired you to start the Hope Unseen Foundation?
TS: After we initially healed, we knew we wanted to help others in the same (or similar) boats. Hope Unseen has allowed me to use my free time and money to advocate for and help others. Empowering others is a gift I do not take lightly.
About six months ago, someone at the pizza shop bought our pizza for us. I went over to thank him and he said, “It’s the least I can do, you do so much for others and you’re doing things I could never do. You’re changing lives in a big way and I want to encourage you.” It was deeply meaningful. A few weeks ago, I received a letter where a women said, “I hope you get everything back tenfold for what you have given to me in the short hour and a half that I was with you. I’m forever better for hearing you.” Another time, someone reached out and said, “I saw the article on Hope Unseen about you all conquering huge obstacles and it encouraged me to get off the couch. If you’re doing it, I certainly can; you saved my life.” It’s those things that mean the world.
SR: You haven’t raced a Spartan yet—would you ever try one?
TS: Yes, I would. I played soccer in college; sports and physical challenges have always been a part of my life. About five years ago I signed myself up for swim lessons. I was never afraid of the water and could swim fine, but I wanted to be competitive. So while my boys were in their own swim lessons, I had mine with an individual coach. I want to show my boys that there are no limits to learning and growing. So now I can beat my boys in the crawl stroke! Next up is a Spartan Race, then learning to golf.
SR: What about the Spartan ethos speaks to your story?
TS: I love the spirit of teamwork and crushing obstacles—that has been my whole journey.
SR: What advice would you give to busy moms who are trying to stay on top of everything?
TS: You have to make your health a priority. If you don’t, it will catch up to you—I’m proof of that. I try to tell moms to start now. Even if it’s just one simple change, tweak that habit and then move on to another one. To change something, you have to change something. You also have to get rid of mom guilt to carve out the time to truly take care of yourself. Wake up early, get a babysitter, or budget for a gym with a daycare. Buying an expensive pair of jeans or going on a shopping spree is not self-care. Save that money and invest in something that will pay you back. But never ever give up on yourself—the more you take care of yourself, the more you’ll be able to help others and achieve new levels in business and life.
Think you know someone who deserves the Spartan Spirit Award? Any gender, any age, nominate them! And remember, each month, we’ll be spotlighting new honorees across Spartan.com and our social channels.