Amputee Army athlete defeats injuries with willpower

By Lisa FerdinandoJune 29, 2015

Amputee Army athlete defeats injuries with willpower
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Amputee Army athlete defeats injuries with willpower
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Amputee Army athlete defeats injuries with willpower
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QUANTICO, Va. (Army News Service, June 26, 2015) -- Above-the-elbow amputee Sgt. 1st Class Michael Smith has no regrets about being injured in 2011.

"It was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me," said Smith during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games, June 23. At the games, he competed in the field events. He also competes in swimming and cycling events.

Smith, who was injured in a hit-and-run crash on his motorcycle, said he has a new insight on life. He has made life-long friends with two Army veterans, who were supporting him during his competition.

"It made me a better person, a better man, a better father to my daughter, a better son to my mother, a better friend to my friends," he said. "They say God doesn't make mistakes so I just take it, embrace it and run with it."

Smith is still on active duty. He is in charge of a recruiting company in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was the first above-the-elbow amputee to receive a fit-for-duty assessment, which allowed him to continue active-duty service.

He lives every day to its maximum potential now, he said. "I plan for the future rather than just living for right now."

Smith hopes to become the first above-the-elbow amputee to do the skeleton competitively. Skeleton is a winter sport involving a sled.

By his side were retired Staff Sgt. Michael Cain, a double below-the-knee amputee, who was injured in 2003 in Iraq and who will be competing in the Warrior Games next year; and world-champion para-bobsledder, retired Sgt. Jason Sturm, a below-the-knee amputee, who is supporting Smith with his skeleton training.

"It's a very humbling experience, just to come out here and see other guys and women participate," Smith said. "Just knowing that they've overcome their injuries, I think that's the highlight."

Despite the competition, at the end of the day, he said, "it's about assisting and helping other athletes get over their injury."

"It's a tremendous experience because when I do my workouts or when I do a lot of things, people look at me and are like, 'oh well, if this guy can do it with one arm, then I have no excuses," he said.

"The only handicap we have is the one we create on our own," Smith said.


Sturm was injured in a training accident on Fort Drum, New York, in 2002, when an errant round landed near him. After multiple surgeries, he had his left leg amputated below the knee.

Sturm was a self-described "fat body" following his injury. Today, in addition to being a champion bobsledder, he also does crossfit and serves as a full-time strength coach, who works with adaptive athletes. Being involved in sports has helped him and others, he said.

"Beyond the competitiveness, it's introduced me to more adaptive athletes and more people, and it's allowed me to motivate people and also to have people understand that when you are injured, it's not a permanent injury," he said.

"It might be a permanent injury on the surface, but the only injury you create is in your mind," he said. "It's allowed me to prove that an injury or at least a surface injury isn't something that is going to slow you down."

Sturm is firm believer in his convictions, pointing out the quote tattooed on his forearm: "Reject your sense of injury, and the injury itself disappears."

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