Your Neighbor: Meet Julie Smith Dover

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 21, 2023

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By Mandy Haggerson

For the Clemmons Courier

As the local West Forsyth High School community came together to celebrate their inaugural class of 14 inductees for their sports hall of fame, Julie Smith Dover was filled with appreciation and nostalgia.

“I was reminded of how magical my time at West Forsyth was,” said Dover, one of the recognized Titan athletes. “It was so meaningful having my family, friends, coaches and former teachers there to share in the weekend together.”

Many of those important people in Dover’s life were there from her earliest memories.

“As the youngest of 3 siblings, I always looked up to my brother (Brantley Smith) and sister (Leslie Leinbach) when they participated in activities,” Dover said. “It made me braver to try things like Clemmons Cougar basketball, Brookwood swim team, softball, dancing boots and cheerleading.

“My parents (Susie and Tommy Smith) encouraged us to be active, too. My dad entered me in a couple of road races when I was in the eighth grade. My very first one was a fun run, and there weren’t too many kids in my age group that participated. It went so well that we did the 8k AT&T race on the same day, which began my love and appreciation for running.”

Once Dover went to high school, she started training with the cross-country team under Coach Jeff Thompson (also a member of the inaugural class for the West Forsyth Sports Hall of Fame). Dover finished second in the state as a freshman.

“I had swum for the WSY through most of middle school, which helped me get into great cardiovascular shape when I first started high school,” Dover said. “Although I stopped swimming year-round on the swim team, I did participate at West every season, which was a lot of fun.

Thompson was also the coach for the West Forsyth swim team.

“He did a great job of keeping things light and fun but still challenging us,” Dover said.

With many accomplishments under Dover’s belt as a Titan, including female athlete of the year three out of her four years at West Forsyth, she remains humble.

“My best memories include winning as a team from the state championship to our swim team conference when we weren’t expected to come out on top against our rival, Mt. Tabor High School, in the snow,” Dover said.

During Dover’s senior year of high school, she was introduced to the cross-country coach, Joan Nesbit, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) through a fellow running friend.

“She was in town for the ACC championships at Wake Forest University, and I went over there to watch,” Dover said. “After our meeting, I was invited to come visit that winter. Both Brantley and Leslie had gone to North Carolina State University, so initially, I had really thought about going there. Ultimately, I ended up going to Carolina after a great visit and tour.

“College was the first time that I actually trained year-round for running. I really enjoyed being a college athlete.”

A perk of being an athlete at UNC was that she was required to have tutors with her classes.

“Initially, I had thought I would focus on math; however, my English tutor was fantastic, and I decided to get my degree in that area instead,” Dover said. “I even stayed an extra semester so that I could try out and play on the women’s soccer team. My friends on the soccer team said that Coach Anson Dorrance wouldn’t make cuts to the team if you could survive his conditioning workouts. We won a national championship that year, so it was fun to be part of that experience.”

After graduating, Dover opted for a completely new experience.

“I decided to move to Vail, Colorado,” Dover said. “I hadn’t been able to do a lot of skiing during high school and college because I never wanted to get hurt. It was a chance for me to switch gears for a bit while I worked for the ski schools. After spending time out in Colorado, I decided to go back to school at UNC to get my master’s in teaching, which took a calendar year to complete.”

Having had such a great experience at her alma mater, Dover headed back to Clemmons and accepted a position at West Forsyth, teaching English to ninth and 12th grade students.

“Although I loved being back at West, I also realized pretty quickly that I didn’t like telling people what to do,” Dover said. “I left to work for friends here and there before I found a different way to interact with students. I was offered a position to coach at High Point University by Mt. Tabor’s former cross-country coach who was there. I stayed on for four years, and it was a lot of hard work but so much fun. There were a lot of recruiting calls which had to be done then at night and on the weekends.”

After influencing student-athletes much like herself, Dover decided to take a job with women’s clothing that provided more flexibility since she was now a mom to daughters, Sarah Rhoades, 16, and Susie, 13.

“It helped allow me to spend time with my kid’s and still work full time,” Dover said. “I stopped during COVID-19 and now do substitute teaching and travel planning. With their activities from soccer, volleyball, tennis and football, there is always something to attend or support them in.”

Dover also expanded her family when she married her husband, Kevin.

“We knew pretty quickly that we had a lot in common when we met,” Dover said. “He’s a big sports fan himself, and I’ve agreed to cheer for the University of Georgia, where he went to college if he cheers for Carolina.

“His children, Andrew is a senior and Izzie, a junior studying abroad, is also very busy with interesting activities, too. Because all our kids are getting to the age where they don’t always want us around, it allows Kevin and I to get to try new things on our own, too, like tennis.”

Being able to reflect from the vantage point as a parent this past weekend gave Dover a huge appreciation for all of those who truly impacted her journey.

“I’ve been so lucky to have such amazing people support me,” Dover said. “Lifelong friends that have always shown up for me like Kristin Marion and her mom, Susie. Of course, my parents have always been very supportive.

“I also realize how much the teachers and coaches did for me and continue to do for so many other children. It seems crazy to me that I spent those four years at West Forsyth and get to be in the Hall of Fame. There are teachers and coaches who spent decades there. In my mind, they are the real MVPs, and I will be forever grateful to all of them.”