Utah man inspires others with journey from disabled vet to Invictus Games medalist
SPANISH FORK, Utah — Sometimes the way to success in life isn’t one that is planned, and a Utah man has reached unparalleled heights on an international stage where he never predicted he’d be competing.
Joshua Smith recently came home from the 2022 Invictus Games with eight medals, his second-straight, eight-medal effort.
“We won gold in wheelchair basketball, we won gold in wheelchair rugby,” Smith said in a recent interview with KSL TV. “I won four medals in my track chair races, got a medal in seated discuss throw and got a medal in cycling.”
The medically-retired, disabled veteran’s road to the Invictus Games was one he didn’t originally see coming.
In 2009, Smith was in the middle of his 13 years of active duty for the U.S. Air Force when he attended a survival training.
“We get tortured and beat up and basically we’re taught how to stay alive so when we’re on a deployment or down-range anywhere around the world, heaven forbid we got taken as a hostage or a POW,” he explained. “We’re taught skills and given some techniques and training to learn how to keep ourselves alive and our fellow teammates as well if anyone’s with us.”
During that training, Smith said he was shoved down into a small culvert for about a half hour.
“I felt a tear in my hip, my back went out on me, I had issues with my neck, I felt a tear in my shoulder,” Smith said.
Initially Smith fought against the idea he had suffered serious injuries.
“I had cadre instructors (say), you know, ‘Sgt. Smith, what’s wrong?’” he said. “’You’re kind of hobbling and limping around’ and I was just, ‘I’m good, I’m fine—just a little beat up from the month of training, I’m good to go.’”
He continued for six more years until he finally could not go any longer and he saw a new doctor while stationed in South Dakota.
“(I) went in and sat down with a hip specialist and he says, ‘hey, you need full bilateral hip replacements,” said Smith, who also disclosed he still has four discs in his back that need to be fused together. “I was totally shocked and surprised.”
Smith was medically-retired after 13 years of service in 2016.
“As I went through the medical board process and that evaluation, I was introduced to the Air Force’s Wounded Warrior program, and within the Air Force’s Wounded Warrior program they have adaptive sports,” Smith said.
He attended a care event where participants where trained how to compete in adaptive sports.
“Being at that week of camp and learning about adaptive sports was just kind of a huge game-changer for me,” Smith said. “It gave me definitely a lot of hope of, you know what, even though there’s so many things I can’t physically do anymore because of having hip replacements and lower back issues and a couple other surgeries I went through, there’s still some physical activity out there I can involve myself with.”
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 my first time in the Invictus Games.”
There, Smith took home eight medals.
It was a feat he then repeated earlier this year as a Team USA co-captain when the games were once again held, this time at The Hague in the Netherlands.
“We came away with a great showing and a phenomenal 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 have even dreamt of some of the experiences and opportunities I’ve been given,” Smith said as he grew teary-eyed recalling the words of a friend he met through the program who had his leg amputated due to cancer and died in 2018. “He was one of the happiest people I had ever been around and that was his motto — ‘life is not about what I can’t do, but life is about what I still can do — and for somebody that knew that he didn’t have much time left because of that cancer spreading, he lived life to the fullest.”
Smith said he hoped those who learn about his own personal story will benefit from that same message.
“If I inspire one person, that’s a success for me,” Smith said. “It’s about living life to the fullest with the best way we know how and about doing everything that we still can do.”
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