Patrick Reusse
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Fiona Smith has a tradition of finishing one of her distance races, mingling briefly with the other contestants and teammates, and then taking along a cell phone on her cool-down jog in order to FaceTime with her parents.

These are not overbearing parents who have been in-person witnesses to that day's race and want to offer advice. Mike and Katie Smith generally are located in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, when getting a race review from their daughter.

"It might be the middle of the night, but we get to see almost all of her races on a live feed,'' Katie said. "And then we get her call to get her thoughts on the race. Modern technology is so great.''

Smith has completed her junior year at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn. She is not yet 21 and has established herself as a powerful force in Division III distance running — cross country, the 5K, the 10K and the occasional 3K.

"That's the best part of running an indoor meet,'' Smith said. "You get to run the 3K. I love that race.''

Last fall, Smith finished second to Kassie Parker, a sixth-year senior from Loras College in Iowa, in the D-III cross-country championships. Smith won both the 3K and the 5K in the D-III indoor championships in March. Last week in Rochester, N.Y., she finished second to Parker in both the 5K and 10K in the D-III outdoor championships.

On Tuesday, Smith was with her parents at a home in western Wisconsin that serves as the U.S. headquarters for the family. On Saturday, Fiona will be heading to Baltimore — where brother Connor happens to live — for her internship job in computer science.

Fiona is a 4.0 student with a major in mathematics and minors in computer science and Spanish studies. And the fact that she will be doing her training runs in Baltimore, with its summer combination of grueling heat and humidity, is not at all discouraging.

"I spent the last two summers with my parents in Saudi Arabia,'' Smith said. "It can get to 130 degrees in the middle of summer, and we're only 20 kilometers from the gulf, so there's humidity, too. Baltimore will be perfect for a good run.''

Robin Balder-Lanoue, St. Benedict's track coach since 1999, has seen evidence of Smith's training in Saudi Arabia.

"Fiona would send me videos of her squeezing the sweat out of her track clothes after a run,'' Balder-Lanoue said. "It's like they were under a faucet.''

Smith's adventurous life started at age 2. Mike Smith, a Spring Lake Park native, took a job with an international school in Berlin and the family of five — Connor and Brigid are older siblings to Fiona — moved to Germany.

The Smiths were there two years and then moved to Saudi Arabia and another international school for six years. The family then returned to the States when Mike took a job as a superintendent of Catholic schools in Fargo, N.D.

Wanderlust returned. The Smiths moved to El Salvador, then back to Saudi Arabia for Fiona's high school years.

"My track bio for St. Ben's has Dhahran High School as where I graduated, and people who see that will ask about it,'' Smith said. "I usually give the short version, unless they're friends of mine and we're not in a hurry.''

Distance did not make the heart grow less fond of St. John's and St. Ben's for the Smith parents.

"When I came to St. Ben's in 1989, I was told, 'Ninety percent of Bennies end up marrying Johnnies,' " Katie said. "I said, 'That won't be me.' And here Mike and I are 30-some years later, both proud 1994 graduates, and with three kids who have been Johnnies or Bennies.' "

This led to Fiona attending Balder-Lanoue's summer cross-country camps starting as a high school freshman. "She was getting ready to move back to Saudi,'' the coach said. "No idea what she could become then, but you definitely could see the desire.''

Smith showed that seven years later in pursuing the more-experienced favorite, Parker, last week in Rochester in the 10K.

"The race didn't start until 9:50 at night and it was 58 degrees — perfect,'' Smith said. "Usually, in the 10K, everyone starts at pace and sees how the race is going to develop. Kassie and I pushed ourselves from the start.''

The times were outstanding: Parker, 33:02.53, and Smith, 33:05.17.

"It was such a great night to be running,'' Smith said.

And many more to come, says Balder-Lanoue, with the knowledge that many distant runners don't peak until around 30 years of age.

If they keep at it.

"I'd bet anything Fiona will,'' Balder-Lanoue said. "She loves running. And she is one brilliant, fearless and humble young woman.''