At first Joshua Smith mainly thought of the things he could no longer do. Injured by an unfortunate coincidence, he became very limited in his possibilities. However, the captain of Team USA has become a different person. “I am now focusing on what I can do. And I am happy that I have been able to create so many new friendships.”
By Edward Swier
The complaints got worse
Things went wrong at Combat Survival School. Smith, appointed as Aircrew Flight Equipment Specialist within the US Air Force, was abandoned in 2008 as part of an exercise where they were diving in a culvert. The resilience training went wrong. Smith suffered from his hips and back, among other things. “And I had more and more complaints.” The pain-relieving pills and soothing words didn’t help, and afterwards the serious treatment didn’t help either. The complaints got worse and worse.
As a result, he eventually had to undergo surgery on both of his hips in 2015, and surgery on his right shoulder and elbow was also necessary. “The result was that I was severely restricted in my freedom of movement. The injuries were initially very frustrating, but the fact that I knew that my body would never be able to do a number of things anymore, that really did it. I have since learned to live with it. I feel calmness and peace, can accept that it has happened to me. I will never be able to understand why it happened to me. But I can’t change it. I also look at it from a positive perspective. Otherwise I would have never been involved in the Warrior Games, I could never have been part of Team USA for the Invictus Games.”
Create new experiences
Joshua Smith is team captain of the American team for the Invictus Games. Together with co-captain George Vera, he leads the 65 participants of Team USA. “I want to help others when necessary. Hope to be able to sufficiently tell them what they can expect in The Hague, how they can prepare for unexpected things. I am very pleased that I have been asked for the task, I am also incredibly honored.”
Since he was introduced to the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program in early 2016, much has changed in Smith’s life. And Joshua does a lot of sports, much more than he did before the incident. “I have been very competitive all my life, always played a lot of sports. The fact that I suddenly became proficient in adaptive sports, in sports for people with a disability, has greatly strengthened me physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. New opportunities opened up for me, I was able to create new experiences. Experiences that I thought would not be possible for me.”
Smith participated in the Warrior Games in 2017, 2018 and 2019. “I was immediately impressed by the concept, by the idea behind it. I understand why Prince Harry was inspired when he was introduced to the event in 2013 and consequently invented the Invictus Games.”
Two years ago, Smith participated at the Invictus Games in Sydney. He returned from Australia with no less than eight medals. But he cherishes the memories even more than the medals he won. Such as the moment that Prince Harry and Meghan congratulated him on his achievements. “The first time was amazing, because of all the various impressions. I was greatly honored to represent America and the US Air Force. The friendship and companionship that you build with so many others – injured, sick, wounded or disabled – from all over the world, really did me good.”
Smith has not been in duty since November 2016, he is a veteran. Once he got in touch with the Wounded Warrior program in his own country, he picked up many things. Not only did he start exercising much more, Smith also started following an educational course full-time.
Above all, Smith has also found a new passion, he teaches at a primary school. “I am a Behavior Specialist, behavioral expert, at the Rock Canyon Elementery School in Provo, a town in Utah. I work with children there who find it difficult to function in a classroom, sometimes because they have a difficult home situation, or because they have ADHD, for example. I help them to stay out of trouble. And make sure they can keep coming to school. That is of course very rewarding work.”
As previously mentioned, Smith does a lot of sports in his spare time. Name a sport at the Invictus Games and Joshua Smith is participating in it or has previous experience in the sport. Wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby are his favorites, but also athletics, rowing, cycling and power lifting attract him. His training schedule is full. “I train six days a week, play wheelchair basketball for three days, am regularly on the rowing machine, and on the handcycle.”
He is a busy man. Because he also seizes every opportunity he gets to tell his story. Television appearances, presentations at companies; Smith likes telling his story. “It’s great that, thanks to the Wounded Warrior program and the Invictus Games, many people in America already know something about the theme. But I would otherwise like to share it with them. As team captain you get the chance to share your story a lot more. It is an amazing feeling if you can inspire others with your stories. I want to tell others that life can be really hard, but there is always a way to overcome the worst of suffering.”