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Spanish Fork – Sometimes the path to success in life isn’t what he planned, and a Utah man has reached unparalleled heights on the international stage where he never expected he would compete.
Joshua Smith recently returned to Utah from the 2022 Invictus Games in the Netherlands with eight medals, his second straight effort of eight medals.
“We won the gold in wheelchair basketball, we won the gold in wheelchair rugby,” Smith said in a recent interview with KSL-TV. “I won four medals in chair races, got a medal in seated discus and got a medal in cycling.”
The path of a retired, medically disabled veteran to the Invictus Games was one he hadn’t originally anticipated.
In 2009, Smith was in the middle of his 13-year active duty in the US Air Force when he attended survival training.
“We get tortured and beaten, and we’re basically learning how to survive, so when we’re on a deployment site or at low range anywhere around the world, God forbid we’re being taken hostage or prisoner of war,” he explained. “We taught the skills and provided some techniques and training to learn how to keep ourselves alive and our teammates too if anyone was with us.”
During that training, Smith said he was pushed down a small stream for about half an hour.
“I had a tear in my groin, my back was sticking out from above, I had issues with my neck, and I had a tear in my shoulder,” Smith said.
Smith initially fought against the idea that he had been seriously injured.
He said, “I had a cadre of instructors (saying), you know, Sergeant Smith, what’s wrong?” “You’re kind of swaying and limp” and I was just, “I’m fine, I’m fine — just a light blow from a month of training, I’m fine.” “
He continued for another six years until eventually he was unable to continue and saw a new doctor while in South Dakota.
“I went and sat down with a hip specialist and said, ‘Hey, you need a complete bilateral hip replacement,'” said Smith, who also revealed that he still had four discs in his back that had to be fused together. “I was totally shocked and surprised.”
It’s about living life to the fullest in the best way we know how and about doing all that we can still do.
– Joshua Smith
Smith medically retired after 13 years of service in 2016.
“When I went through the medical board process and this evaluation, I was introduced to the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, and within the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, they have adaptive sports,” Smith said.
Attended a sponsorship event where participants were trained on how to compete in adaptive sports.
“Being in that week of camp and learning about adaptive sports was a huge game-changer for me,” Smith said. “It definitely gave me a lot of hope, you know, even though there are so many things I can’t do physically anymore because of my hip replacement, lower back issues and other surgery I’ve had, there are still some out there that I can involve myself in” .
His journey took him to the Department of Defense Warrior Games and then to the Invictus Games.
“The Invictus Games were originally created by Prince Harry,” Smith said. “I went to Australia in 2018 and competed for the first time in the Invictus Games.”
There, Smith earned eight medals.
It was a feat he repeated earlier this year as captain of Team USA when the matches were held again, this time in The Hague in the Netherlands.
“We came away with a fantastic show and an exceptional experience,” Smith said.
To help inspire others, Smith shares the story of his journey and what he did to overcome his injuries and adapt.
“I couldn’t even dream of some of the experiences and opportunities I had,” Smith said, recalling the words of a friend he met during the show who had had a leg amputated due to cancer and died in 2018.
“He was one of the happiest people I’ve ever been around and that was his motto – ‘Life is not about what I can’t do, but life is about what I can still do’ – and for someone who knows they haven’t done that” a lot of time remained because Cancer spread, he lived life to the fullest.”
Smith said he hopes those who know his personal story will benefit from the same message.
“If I inspire one person, that would be a success for me,” Smith said. “It’s about living life to the fullest and the best way we know how to do it and doing everything we can still do.”