Young cancer survivor, amputee joins World Class Athlete Program ranks for day
December 13, 2012
FORT CARSON, Colo. (Dec. 13, 2012) -- Before Monday morning's roll call, Soldiers with the World Class Athlete Program fell into formation. Among them, propped up on crutches and dressed in his own Army Combat Uniform, stood 10-year-old Benjamin Smith.
As Capt. Scott Christie, commander of the World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP, called roll, he bellowed Benjamin's name.
"Here," said Benjamin, a freckled fifth-grader from Pueblo, Colo.
For as long as he can remember, Benjamin said he has wanted to join the military.
"I like that you get to fight for the country," he said, adding that he wanted to work in weapons repairs.
Monday, Benjamin's wish came partly true when WCAP Soldiers inducted him into the ranks. For an entire day, Benjamin worked out with the athletes, got an official Soldier's haircut and traveled to the Olympic Training Center for a private tour.
"It's a special way for the WCAP family to give back to those who are deserving," said Christie. "I think the military is perfectly geared to give back to a young man in this situation."
After formation, Soldiers asked the newest and youngest recruit questions.
What's your favorite sport? Football.
What's your favorite team? The Broncos.
What bothers you the most? "The fact that I don't have a real left foot," said Benjamin.
In July, doctors amputated Benjamin's left foot and part of his leg in an attempt to cordon the cancer growing in the bones of his ankle.
"We noticed the bump on his ankle about a year ago," said Krystal Smith, Benjamin's mother. "We called him 'Freak Feet' because it looked like he had two ankle bones. But it didn't bother him. It didn't hurt and it never got bigger."
Smith took Benjamin to a doctor who assured her it was a ganglion cyst and posed no threat.
In April, Benjamin bumped the growth, triggering substantial swelling.
Smith said doctors removed the growth and had it biopsied. A few days later, doctors informed her of the cancer.
"They told me this was a cyst. But they said this is a type of cancer that mimics cysts," she said.
Doctors posed two options to Benjamin and his mother: they could use radiation therapy on his left foot, stopping the cancer as well as the growth of his foot; or they could amputate.
Benjamin chose amputation.
"They told us if they radiate the left ankle, it would stop the growth of the plates and he'd have brittle bones," Smith said. "They would also have to radiate the right foot so his feet would be the same size, but he'd always be at risk of breaking his ankles and having no use of his feet. Benjamin decided amputation was the best route."
"I was scared," said Benjamin. "I was flipping out because I didn't know what was going to happen."
Smith said after the surgery, her rambunctious 10-year-old became depressed and struggled in physical therapy.
"Before, he was outgoing and motivated," she said. "Now, there's a lot of 'I can'ts.'"
Knowing her son needed encouragement, Smith arranged a visit with WCAP Soldiers through friends that worked at Fort Carson.
"I think this is going to help," she said. "I think this is something that shows him there's still some opportunities for him. He's an awesome little boy, but he doesn't see it. He needs this."
Believing he was attending yet another doctor's visit, Benjamin and his mother drove to Fort Carson. To his surprise, he was greeted by Christie and Sgt. Jerrad Fields, WCAP Soldier and fellow left-leg amputee.
"This is your home for today," said Christie addressing Benjamin. "This is your unit. Today, you're part of our WCAP family."
Benjamin toured the WCAP facilities, observing training sessions, meeting athletes and collecting autographs. In the quiet moments, he and Fields compared notes on their favorite military weapons, video games and how to adjust to a new life with a prosthetic.
"I do everything the same way," said Fields, who had his left leg amputated after his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Baghdad, in 2005. "Once you figure out the ins and outs of your leg, you'll be fine."
Fields, a former cavalry trooper with 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga., said he joined WCAP after a representative saw him perform a back flip in a therapy session shortly after his injury. He now runs the 100- and 200-meter sprints and performs the long jump.
Fields led Benjamin through a series of exercises, forcing him off of his crutches.
In the WCAP weight room, Benjamin hobbled to the different exercise stations, performing each to the best of his ability. Never once did he say, "I can't."
"I'm excited for him," Fields said. "It's terrifying at first. I know what's ahead for him. It's touching and humbling to meet him. I know he'll be OK."