SI special contributor Gary Smith has a soft voice and a mild manner that make it easy to overlook him in a crowd. But there is nothing soft or mild about the intensity of his curiosity about people. As an editor once said, "You may never notice Gary in a crowded room, but he can tell you more about every person in that room than anyone else could."
Smith's ability to make his subjects reveal their innermost thoughts and secrets has been the hallmark of many of the stories he has written for us, from his profile of Carl Lewis in 1984 to his story about boxer Alexis Arguello in this issue (page 84). But Smith claims no special method of interviewing.
"I almost sense that the people I talk to get caught up in the process of self-discovery. Maybe they become intrigued with the fact that someone has found something in them that they didn't know was there or that they were avoiding," he says.
Folly Beach, S.C. is the most recent home of Smith and his wife, Sally, a well-traveled pair if ever there was one. Since their marriage last December, they have dodged Cape buffalo at 10,000 feet on Mount Kenya (SI, May 27), gone on missions with Mormons in South Africa and South America (SI, 1985 College and Pro Football Spectacular), shopped for llama fetuses—a witchcraft staple—in Bolivia and snaked through the streets of Rio in leopard costumes as part of a samba parade group during Carnaval. "When our kids see our picture album, they're going to wonder what kind of lunatics they have for parents," he says with a laugh. Not content to remain in one place for long, the Smiths are planning to move to Bolivia next May. "I've never seen a place like it for stories," Gary says. "You feel like you're part of a daily adventure there, not a tourist."
It's difficult to imagine Smith being uncomfortable anywhere. His favorite outfits consist of jeans, sandals and short-sleeved shirts. A reader of Nietzsche, Camus and Dostoyevsky, he watches no TV and runs about eight miles every day. The 31-year-old Smith also enjoys playing basketball, writing fiction and dancing. The unifying philosophy of his life? "I like to play hard, write hard, do everything hard. The only trouble is I get so sweaty when I dance, even my wife won't slow dance with me."
SMITH KEEPS A LOW PROFILE WITH HIS SUBJECTS, BUT HE ALWAYS RISES TO THE OCCASION