Disabled Air Force Veteran from Spanish Fork heals through competitive sports, hopes others will, too

Joshua Smith participates in the Wounded Warrior Games.

SPANISH FORK, Ut. — From a young age, Joshua Smith always loved playing sports and being physically active. This way of life followed him through a 13-year career in the United States Air Force where he earned the rank of Technical Sergeant. His years of service brought him great pride and joy and fulfilled his need to maintain a healthy lifestyle —  that is, until one day during a routine training.

It was at a combat training in the summer of 2008 when it happened. Smith was in a simulated war situation, being taught how to stay alive if he were to be captured as a prisoner of war, and he was badly injured, hurting his shoulder, hip and back. The injury would require Smith to get his hips replaced, suffer debilitating pain in other areas of his body, and worst of all, get medically discharged from the Air Force after being found to be unfit for duty.

“Being found unfit for duty and unable to continue to serve my country was extremely difficult,” Smith said. “Even though my injuries didn’t happen during combat, it is still hard physically, mentally and emotionally because I’ve had to leave behind something that has been a part of me for so long.”

Three years ago, however, Smith discovered something that helped disabled veterans like himself regain confidence and physical activity while still representing their country. What he discovered was the Air Force Warrior Games, which is a program that lets disabled veterans compete in paralympic-style athletics. As a member of the Air force Warrior Team, Smith has competed around the country, and was even sent to Australia to compete in the Invictus Games created by Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex this past October.

Joshua Smith displays the flag during the Invictus Games.

“Being part of the Air Force Warrior Team has helped me to find a way around and adapt to these injuries,” Smith said. “It has helped with healing and recovery, letting me know that there are still things that I can do. Physical activity has been such a big part of my physical and mental well-being, and it is so good to have the opportunity to continue that way of life through these games.”

Smith said that competing with and against other disabled veterans has given him a sense of perspective, gratitude and has even inspired him, too.

“As I’ve traveled around the country and world in these events, I have seen that there are many who have suffered much worse than I have,” Smith said. “Seeing them overcome these physical injuries — many who also struggle with PTSD and suicidal thoughts — has inspired me. I have also realized how important programs like these are not just for the physical aspect, but for disabled veterans to be able to connect with others like them.”

It is these realizations that have sent Smith on a mission to educate the public, in particular disabled veterans, about these programs so that they, too can have a chance at a better life after their injuries.

Joshua Smith competes in chair sports.

“I want to spread awareness to the public about how vital these types of programs are for wounded, ill, injured, and disabled service members and veterans,” Smith said. “Being able to spread that awareness I hope will also encourage people to watch the Warrior Games and Invictus Games that are often televised, to support those who have sacrificed so much for the benefit of our country.”
For more information on how to be a part of the Wounded Warrior Games, go to dodwarriorgames.com.