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NFL legend Emmitt Smith may have lost the adrenaline rush of competition the day he hung up his cleats in 2005, but by no means has the Hall of Fame running back given up on physically challenging himself.
After the rigors of a 15-year NFL career—including three Super Bowl rings as part of the Dallas Cowboys dynasty of the 1990s, 18,355 career rushing yards, and many injuries—Smith’s fitness regimen is on cruise control by means of a long-distance cycling, which is help keeping the NFL’s all-time rushing leader physically fit at 50.
Smith’s body no longer needs to withstand heart-pounding and rib-damaging 4th-and goal situations. Today, it’s all about heart-healthy 45- to 60-mile rides that sometimes last longer than three hours.
“I’ve had my competition mode,” Smith says. “Now I find self-satisfaction just by being able to get on my bike and ride for 45, 50, 60 miles. My legs will feel full, like they should feel. Then I go home, shower and everything else. I’m able to walk around and feel good about what I’ve just done, and not be sore the next day.”
But there is still one goal Smith is aiming for: Hitting a triple-digit mile mark.
“The goal is a 100-mile ride,” Smith says. “I want to see I can do it. I’m trying to get to that place, but for the most part I’m just riding to stay healthy.”
Once deemed too slow (4.7 40 time) and too small at 5’9’’, 205 pounds coming out of the University of Florida, Smith dropped to the 17th pick in the 1990 NFL draft. Smith essentially skipped the annual NFL combine—the league’s showcase of an athlete’s skills—and worked out in Gainesville. Skipping the combine didn’t seem to hurt Smith’s career.
“I didn’t do anything at the combine. I went there, took my physical, and then I came back to the University of Florida. It was too cold up there in Indianapolis for me to go out there and run. Most importantly, I wanted to set the date in Florida, so my other teammates, who probably were not invited to the combine, could also get evaluated.”
Ironically, Smith is now working with Marriott Bonvoy to offer a members-only Combine Masterclass. Smith says a few lucky “prospects” will be able to compete in physical and mental tests at an NFL practice facility. Smith will be on hand to instruct the weekend athletes.
As far as which Cowboy from the dynasty years would excel today at the combine, Smith says there are a few members who would still impress draft scouts.
“I’d say Michael [Irvin], Troy [Aikman], Moose [Darryl Johnston]—they’re still looking great right now,” Smith says. “Deion [Sanders] taking great care of himself, and even Nate [Newton] has lost a lot of weight.”
With the personal and team success, there were also a multitude of broken bones, knee injuries, and shoulder surgeries over the span of his 15-year NFL career that could’ve wrecked Smith post-retirement, but so far he says he’s holding up quite well. Part of that can be attributed to the countless massage therapies, hot- and cold-tub baths, and chiropractor visits Smith underwent during his career.
“Playing football was like being in a car accident every week,” Smith says. “Your body is going to be sore, and doing things to help alleviate some of the soreness, and take out some of the lactic acid and all of the soreness that was actually in your body.”
Smith feels so good, he says, he may even add even return to hitting the gym in addition to his cycling workouts.
“I’m not a big weightlifter,” Smith says. “I haven’t lifted weights in such a long time, and I probably find myself getting back into a little bit of it, now that I’m 50 years old.”