Hero of the Month: Steven Smith
Who is Steven Smith? I offer this glimpse of a qualifying match from 2012…
“The Athletes as always played excellent tennis. Sportsmanship was front and center. In a singles match, the scorekeeper on one of the courts called the match in favor of one of the Athletes. Players shook hands and left the court. The scorekeeper went to report the score. The winning Athlete, Steven Smith, went to the scorekeeper and let her know that the match was not over. In his usual quiet way, Steven explained that the scorekeeper, in error, had mistakenly awarded the last game played to him. It should have been awarded to his opponent. Both Athletes and scorekeeper went back to the court to finish the match. When the match was over, Stevenwon the match for the 2nd time. However, in the process, Steven won not only the match, but also the respect of his opponent, the scorekeeper, and all others watching the match. And his Coach walked away so very proud of being able to work with such a high-principled athlete.”
Steven was born in Newport Beach, CA. His parents first noticed he was not speaking like other 2 year olds. They took him to doctors and specialists and had various tests done but the doctors could not come up with a diagnosis. Steven went through physical, speech and vision therapy during those early years. One doctor even said that “he will never be able to ride a bike”. Steven’s earliest memories were when he was riding his bike at the local parks. Steven sure proved that doctor WRONG! At age 10, his family moved to Florida where he was closer to his grandparents and other family members. He loved to go fishing and boating on the lake behind his grandparent’s home and riding his bike around the neighborhood with his friend.
From the age of 2 1/2 when Steven entered the Preschool Intervention Program through High School, he participated in the Special Education Program. During his time in high school, Steven took part in a work study program where he held jobs as a stocker, janitor, and production line worker. Steven graduated from high school with an Occupational Preparation Diploma. He spent a couple of semesters living at the Vocational Rehabilitation Facility in Goldsboro and attending Wayne Community College where he proudly earned Certificates for Horticulture and Grounds Maintenance.
While living in Florida, Steven first participated in a Special Olympics Basketball offered through his Middle School. When his family moved to NC, the high school he attended was not directly involved in Special Olympics. In fact, Pender County didn’t have a Special Olympics program. Steven wouldn’t return to Special Olympics until he was an adult.
After Steven returned from the Vocation Rehabilitation Program, he could not find a job, so he volunteered for about 2 years at the local animal shelter. This gave him the experience to obtain his current part-time job at The Grooming Center in Wilmington where he has been employed for almost 2 years. Transportation, as with most Special Olympics athletes, has been Steven’s main obstacle in obtaining a full-time job. He has a driving permit and hopes to get his license soon.
Steven attends church at Burgaw Baptist Church and serves as an Usher (he loves to get dressed up in his suit and tie) and also volunteers at the church for VBS and various other projects.
Steven’s biggest love is Tennis. NO that’s not true. Steven’s biggest love is football and specifically West Virginia University Mountaineers football. In his spare time he enjoys watching his team on TV, listening to music, using his IPad, watching movies, playing video games with his nephews, writing short stories and bowling. He especially loves to play table tennis with his worker because they always play tight games. He also enjoys traveling. He has family all over the country and loves visiting them.
Steven currently enjoys participating in tennis, basketball, and softball through Special Olympics New Hanover County.
Steven put great effort into improving his game during 2012. In February, at ATANC’s “Spring Thaw” tournament, Steven was awarded the Sportsmanship trophy. His play at the State Games and the Raleigh “Winter Chill” in December drew the attention in his direction. Steven’s much improved game got him the invitation of his tennis life.
In January, Steven was one of the three North Carolina Athletes invited to compete at the Xperience in Charlottesville, VA. The other athletes attending were Ted Hula and Kara Diachenko. In addition, John Gray, another Special Olympics Athlete, was chosen as Head Coach to lead the Team NC. The Xperience, is one of Special Olympics’ National tennis tournaments. Only 36 players are invited each year to compete in this event. This year, Athletes came from 11 states, with the furthest traveling from California. In 2012, the event had an Athlete from Switzerland. In the future, the tournament will make the transition to an International event. What makes this tournament so great is that the Athletes invited are the top players from each state. It is an honor to be chosen to play in the Xperience.
Steven understood the honor he received. He spent the weeks prior to the event fine tuning his strokes. Before the event he spoke of needing to stay focused. Steven knew if he gave 100% effort in each match that he would take his best game on to the court. After divisioning, Steven was placed in division #5 along with tough players from Missouri, Massachusetts, and Georgia. Steven finished in 3rd place, proudly bringing home a bronze medal.
Steven began practicing in February with Team New Hanover County. He is looking forward to seeing all his friends at the “Spring Thaw” Adaptive Tennis Tournament, the other 2013 ATANC tournaments and the Special Olympics season.