City News

Doctor helping young runners cross the finish line

Dr. David Smalls works with the Charlotte Flights.
Dr. David Smalls works with the Charlotte Flights. JOE HABINA

As a member of the Charlotte Flights more than 15 years ago, David Small appreciated the lessons taught by the youth track and field program’s coaches and leaders.

So when those same leaders came calling this year, asking Small to help coach the program, Small was all in.

Now known as Dr. David Small and recently graduated from the Carolinas Health Care System Union’s residency program, he is in his first season as a Flights assistant coach. The 33-year old Hampshire Hills resident is supporting many of the same staff that has directed for all of the program’s 24 years.

Small primarily helps out with the Flights’ 10-and-under athletes, coaching the sprints and other events. He says his mission is to be a positive role model and to inspire his athletes to accomplish their life’s goals.

“I like to give the people a real life example of someone pursuing what they wanted to do and achieving it,” Small said. “Being out here, people can see that I’m someone who looks like them. They can pursue their dreams and see that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to.”

Small credits some of the lessons he learned through track and field as a member of the Flights and at West Charlotte for giving him the foundation he needed to advance in his education and medical career.

The son of David Small Sr. and Paulette B. Hasan, Small Jr. competed for the Flights in the late 1990s. He was a hurdler, long jumper and sprinter.

“David Small always told me he was going to be a doctor,” said Flights head coach Anthony James. “Me, being the guy that I am, said ‘OK, you can do that, then run track.’ So he’s a doctor, and he’s back coaching track.”

At West Charlotte, he was a member of the Lions’ indoor and outdoor track and field state championship teams in 1999. Small graduated the following year and accepted an athletic scholarship to Gardner-Webb University.

With his heart set on working in the medical field, Small set out to pursue a degree in athletic training. However, because he was an athlete, it was impossible for him to commit to the athletic training program’s requirements.

Small couldn’t afford to attend Gardner-Webb without the athletic scholarship so he transferred to UNC Charlotte. He graduated from Charlotte in 2005 with a B.S. in Biology and Interdisciplinary Health Studies. Small attended medical school at East Carolina, graduating in 2012.

In March, Flights president Alvin Woods contacted Small about coaching. Small said he was interested as long as Woods understood that his time might be limited. Accompanying his son as a first-year Flights coach is David Small Sr., who lives off of Beatties Ford Road.

Small has made most of the three-days-a-week practices and most of the Flights meets. Sometimes he has to show up in his medical scrubs, making some of his youthful athletes believe he is a nurse.

Small said the greatest challenge to coaching is keeping his playful athletes on task. Sometimes they’d rather be horseplaying instead of focusing on running and technique.

On June 20, Small spent most of the day coaching and serving as a volunteer at the Jim Law Invitational, one of the Flights’ annual home meets at UNC Charlotte’s Irwin Belk Track and Field Center. He was scheduled to attend his residency graduation that night.

“Coaching has been rewarding,” he said. “They’re a little young to know the intricacies of running. It’s important to teach them discipline and the importance of running through the finish line.

“It’s always a good feeling to come back to something you started in. I see myself in these boys. It brings back vivid memories of me running in these meets.”

Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at