Special employee chosen to throw first pitch at Canaries game

June 26, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness.

When GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness leaders determined who would be best to throw out the first pitch at this Friday’s GreatLIFE Night at the ballpark, they didn’t even realize how right their answer would be.

They chose Derek Smith, who has spent the past two years working in fitness maintenance at GreatLIFE’s Performance Center at 69th Street and Southeastern Avenue.

He came to GreatLIFE through the South Dakota Department of Human Services’ vocational rehabilitation program, which matches qualified individuals with disabilities to jobs compatible with their skills and abilities.

In Derek’s case, they couldn’t have made a better match.

“It was a great fit,” said Mike Smith, general manager at the fitness center.

“Derek is awesome. Our member experience is our No. 1 priority, and Derek really fits that well.”

In between vacuuming the floors, wiping down machines and cleaning up the locker rooms, Derek has become the de facto GreatLIFE greeter three mornings a week and an ambassador for the business pretty much 24/7.

“Our members love when Derek comes up and talks to them about how their day is going,” Smith said. “He can name pretty much anyone who goes through the door, and he knows something about them and what’s going on in their life.”

That doesn’t stop once he leaves GreatLIFE, said his mom, Brenda.

“There isn’t a place we go that he doesn’t say hello to someone,” she said. “I’ll say, ‘Who’s that?’ and he’ll tell me it’s a member.”

Derek said he likes the atmosphere at GreatLIFE, and getting to know customers who have become friends. Once he’s done working, he works out on the treadmill and shoots baskets as he practices for his Special Olympics team.

His mom agreed that GreatLIFE is a great fit.

“It’s been fabulous, a great community of people, and the support through his supervisors has been great,” she said.

When he’s not working or working out, Derek is seemingly always on the go. On Tuesday afternoons, he volunteers to deliver mail at Avera Prince of Peace. On Wednesday afternoons, he calls bingo at StoneyBrook Suites. He has joined Toastmasters. And – oh, by the way – he’s also a business owner.

“It’s called Derek’s Media Services,” he said. “I convert VHS tapes to DVDs and slide shows.”

For fun, he likes to spend time with his dog and his niece and nephew, and go to Sioux Falls Storm games. He has some experience on the baseball field too – he has played slow pitch softball for years.

But it wasn’t until today that he learned about Friday’s big pitch.

“We delayed letting him know because we didn’t want him to get too anxious,” his mom said. “But it’s great. He will have some friends and family coming to the game.”

And he also has one more reason to celebrate. Friday happens to be Derek’s 34th birthday.

“When they called me about the game and said it was GreatLIFE Night, I said, ‘Well, that would be awesome,’ because it’s his birthday. And Derek loves a birthday event,” Brenda said.

Derek wasn’t quite sure how to express the way he feels about getting to throw the first pitch, although he said, “I really didn’t expect it.” But words weren’t really needed either. The grin said it all.

GreatLIFE Night at Sioux Falls Stadium is also Pat Mahomes Hall of Fame Night and will include fireworks. Admission for GreatLIFE members is $10, which includes a hotdog and drink. To learn more, click here.

Special employee chosen to throw first pitch at Canaries game

When GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness leaders determined who would be best to throw out the first pitch at this Friday’s GreatLIFE night at the ballpark, they didn’t even realize how right their answer would be.

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