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Race marks bicentennial of surgery that saved Joseph Smith's leg

The “Joseph’s Miracle Run” 5K race, sponsored by the Smith Foundation, celebrated the 200th anniversary of the surgery to save Joseph Smith’s leg on Aug. 3, 1813

The race was held at This Is The Place Heritage Park as part of the Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith reunion held Aug. 1-4. Of the roughly 500 participants in the 5K race and the children’s race immediately afterward, 300 were Smith descendants.

Francis Orton, a foundation member and race organizer, said the race was planned a year and a half in advance. When they realized that 2013 would be the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s boyhood surgery by renowned Dr. Nathan Smith, they saw an opportunity to “publish Joseph’s name for good,” she said.

The race proceeds and donations will go toward a $10,000 scholarship at Dartmouth Medical School, which was founded by Dr. Nathan Smith. The hope is for the race to be an annual event to create a perpetual scholarship.

“We’d like to make it an annual event for at least the next few years,” said Daniel Adams, a Hyrum Smith descendant and member of the foundation who helped organize the race. “It took [Joseph’s leg] three years to heal so he could walk well again.”

Adams views the surgery itself as miraculous because it was a cutting-edge operation that would not become an accepted medical practice until after World War One. The trial also developed the love and courage of the Smith family.

“Hyrum would squeeze his leg and massage it for hours every day just so that he could handle the pain,” Adams said, describing Joseph’s lengthy recovery process. “This is why Joseph and Hyrum are so close, and so Hyrum will never leave Joseph, even in Carthage Jail.”

One Hyrum descendant felt a special connection to the events. Ruth White’s son, Nathaniel, was born at the medical school at Yale, which Nathan Smith co-founded. Her son was born with many birth defects and now uses a wheelchair.

“As soon as I heard about [the race] I felt the connection right off,” she said.

White got an especially loud cheer as she crossed the 5K finish line, pushing her 10-year-old in a jogging stroller.

“He was the only one who volunteered to train with me,” White said with a laugh. “Having him with me just made it more meaningful.

Also helping at the race were 35 missionaries who arrived at 5 a.m. Saturday morning to set up and then guide the runners. Two senior missionaries were stationed at the finish line, and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve awarded each finisher a medal after the race.

Emily Birningham, 83, and Marilyn Critchlow, both Smith descendants, walked the end of the race course to make sure all the grandkids finished the race successfully. Critchlow travelled from Romania for the event, and she spoke enthusiastically about the good turn-out and the excitement of getting the family together.

“This is such a great activity,” Critchlow said. “It was worth it [to travel from Romania] just to hear the opening prayer at a race and the bagpipes.”

“And to have my 25 children and grandchildren in the race,” added Birningham as they neared the finish line.

Lucy Schouten is an Arizona native studying journalism and Middle Eastern studies at Brigham Young University. Contact her at