David Smith is an athlete who will not be beaten. The word inspiration doesn’t even come close. David is a born winner, a force of nature who has repeatedly fought back to triumph over adversity.
A true survivor who has stared death in the face seven times throughout his incredible life and has simply refused to give in. All odds have been defied and doctors’ advice ignored in a truly extraordinary story of one man’s quest to not only live – but to win.
A life peppered with lows that would defeat the best of us and highs of which most can only dream.
A miracle baby who defied death, surviving a crippling childhood and medical misdiagnoses, followed by tumours, blood clots, strokes and paralysis, a life of agonising pain and a slew of operations. But these horrors were miraculously intertwined with successes in any sport to which David happened to turn his hand.
This culminated in a gold medal at London’s 2012 Paralympics- and The Queen threw in an MBE too.
David was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1978, with two club feet and had repeated surgery as a baby and toddler to reset them. He was wrongly diagnosed as epileptic after fits and convulsions, which may have been early signs of the battles that would follow in later life. But David wasn’t going to let something as significant as that hold him back.
He was soon a black belt in karate and represented Britain in World Championships for six years. Desperate to be an Olympian, he switched to sprinting and became a 400metre champion but a series of stress fractures meant he had to think again.
While many would have simply given up, David turned instead to bobsleigh and made Team GB as a brakeman. Pains in his back and neck held him back and he missed the 2006 Winter Olympics.
So when it was pointed out his club foot meant he could qualify as a Paralympian, he decided to bounce back, reinvent and leapt into a boat for the first time in his life and became a rower, with a fierce training regime and his eyes fixed on London 2012.
But, soon after, he was diagnosed with a large tumour in his neck. Surgery left him paralysed and his spine was rebuilt with cages and bolts - but he refused to let his Olympic dream die. Within months he finished first at the 2011 World Rowing Championships, followed by Olympic gold in London a year later.
Once again he reinvented himself and took up cycling with Team GB, focusing on the 2016 Olympics in Rio. But then the tumour returned- twice- requiring further surgery and leaving David severely paralysed.
Doctors told him he would never walk again and he needed to adjust to life in a wheelchair. The mental torture and realisation that his sporting life was over became his toughest battle yet. After 5 months in hospital and over a year of rehab David made it Back onto a bike and into competing again for Great Britain.
But as David says: “My love for sport, competing and winning and life itself transcends everything. I will not be beaten.”
Words by Dominic Mohan