Warfighter Finds Path to Success in Giving Back
Originally declared killed in action in April 2004, retired Army Major Anthony Smith has lived a revitalized life. Smith, 47, survived the rocket propelled grenade that hit his unit, but returned from Iraq with his right arm amputated below the elbow, his right hip bone shattered and severe muscle damage. He underwent more than 30 surgeries and was using an electric wheelchair to maneuver the hospital at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, Texas.
It was during his time at the hospital that he received an invitation he found amusing. “Kirk Bauer walked into my room at BAMC and invited me to go skiing in Breckenridge,” says Smith.
“The first time it was terrible,” says Smith with a laugh. “I could barely even ski because I was so messed up, but I thought if I could get up on snow skis I could do some other things.”
Anthony turned to the sport of archery, attending the Endeavor Games hosted by UCO, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA. “It was there I saw the bigger perspective of disabled sports,” he says.
As Anthony’s rehabilitation continued and he became less reliant on mobility assistive devices, he continued to test his athletic limits, participating in several more Endeavor Games, multiple triathlons and numerous ski events, but none of them captured his attention in the way he’d hoped.
So in 2008, Anthony turned to martial arts, a sport he’d loved prior to his injury. With few adaptive lessons and competitions available, Smith entered able-bodied competitions.
“When I first started I don’t think they wanted to treat me differently, but I think everyone was scared for me,” says Smith. If anyone was scared that he might injure himself further, he quickly laid those fears to rest with his work ethic and how he handled himself during competition.
“Now competitors fight me harder than the able bodied fighters.”
Recently named to the USA United Taekwondo Alliance (UTA) Team, Anthony is looking towards 2016 and the Rio Games, and was the recipient of a Warfighter Sports training grant to help with his competitions.
More than winning international championships, Anthony’s goal is to use martial arts to change kids’ lives. “I know martial arts can do that. Not just for disabled, but able-bodied too,” he says.
The dream to help others through sports started in 2008 when Anthony became involved in Disabled Sports USA’s youth mentoring program that paired military athletes with young athletes with disabilities. It became a reality when Smith and his partner Senior Master Dennis Brewer, started Team Iron Fist to teach people of all ages and ability levels martial arts skills. They currently have 85 students between the ages of 2 and 67, and also help run a program at the Memphis VA teaching Tai Chi to patients with Spinal Cord Injuries.
He aims to help people find the same passion he’s found within his sport, but knows that martial arts may not be for everyone.
“I always tell people to try to find the sport that fits them, and not the sport everyone wants you to do,” says Smith. “What I wanted to do was fight again, which is why I was so successful.”