One hugely consequential wheel eventually led to another for Justin Smith.
Nearly two years ago, Smith, a University of Dubuque women’s basketball coach, was riding the team bus back home after a tournament in Nashville, Tenn., when he felt a jolt. The bus had careened off a guardrail in Kentucky.
The bus’ driver had passed out, and the vehicle was barreling forward at 70 mph. So Smith grabbed the steering wheel and applied the brakes, stopping the bus and avoiding a serious crash.
The December 2017 incident kicked off a year of commendations and recognition.
“It just seemed like one thing after another,” said Smith, who was honored by the Red Cross and Hy-Vee, among other organizations.
That culminated in August 2018, when he and wife, Casey, were invited to compete on the new Fox game show, “Spin the Wheel.” The show, hosted by Dax Shepard, offers contestants a chance to win millions of dollars by, among other things, spinning a 40-foot wheel.
The show debuted June 20. Smith’s episode will air at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 18.
“Being a college coach, I’m a pretty big competitor,” Smith said. “So going in before, I didn’t think I’d be that jacked up or excited or whatever. But once the game gets going, definitely a different human being came out on the show. The basketball coach, the competitor in me came out.”
Smith was nominated by a friend for the show, leading to a series of interviews with network personnel.
“We were pretty clueless about the process,” Smith said. “It was exciting, but also a little nerve-wracking, going through all the steps, the interviews.”
The show was divided into four rounds. And though Smith was the primary competitor, Casey played a crucial role.
Justin Smith, an admitted introvert, said he was able to rise to the occasion. And Casey Smith, the more outgoing of the pair, was in her element.
“You feed off the energy of the crowd,” Casey said. “Everybody’s living in the moment with you. It’s a pretty fun atmosphere.”
Spin the Wheel is somewhat unique in its insistence on drawing its contestants from the ranks of everyday heroes. Other contestants have included a person who helped respond to a train accident and a woman who helped feed people in Las Vegas after a tragic mass shooting.
“It’s all great people doing great things,” said Justin Smith.
“I think we need more of that in the world,” added Casey Smith. “It’s really nice that the show’s taking the extra step.”
After filming, the couple returned to Dubuque and their regular lives. They had to stay mum about how the show turned out.
Fortunately, they found a pretty effective distraction.
“We got back into town on a Friday and we found out (about the pregnancy) the next Saturday,” said Casey. “We were trying for a couple years, so it was our little blessing that we got.
“You go back to work, you go back to your family. In the meantime, we had a little boy who was born in April. We’ve been very busy this whole year.”
Now that the show is set to air, the couple is excited to share the experience. Family members and friends will join the Smiths to watch the broadcast.
Even if Justin Smith, the introvert, is doing so somewhat reluctantly.
“I was perfectly OK just sitting by myself and watching it in the living room,” he said.
“We’re living in the moment with everyone else,” added Casey. “It’s going to be fun to experience with our families.”