By Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — It has been a long journey from the swimming pool at Colorado’s Greeley Central High School to proudly representing the Air Force in the lanes at this year’s Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy. But for Senior Master Sgt. Martin Smith, operations superintendent for the 380th Space Control Squadron, it is nothing less than an honor.
With the accident still fresh in his memory, Smith recalls the events that led to the amputation of his left leg just below the knee. It happened in August of 2012 while commuting from Peterson to his home in Parker, when he was involved in a motorcycle accident on Highway 83.
After the injury and a lot of soul-searching, Smith elected to have the lower portion of his leg removed. Otherwise the severely muscle-damage leg may have led to a more serious amputation.
“We are fighters,” Smith’s wife Susan said to him as he laid in recovery at the hospital.
After the surgery in September 2012, Smith was finally able to get back into the pool in December to begin the long road of physical recovery. It was Jack Ladley, Air Force Recovery Care coordinator in Colorado Springs, that suggested that Smith tryout for the team. After the tryout camp in January of 2013 at the Academy, Smith was selected to represent the Air Force in the pool for this year’s Warrior Games.
This is the first time the Air Force will be represented at the games with a complete 50 member team participating in all events.
“I never really intended to get back into swimming,” Smith said. “Working out in the pool was the only real option for me to stay in physical shape and remain on active duty.”
“I am proud to represent the Air Force and also proud of my brothers-in-arms who have been injured in combat,” he said with pride in his voice.
“This is the Warrior Games and I do not want my injury to downplay the sacrifice of the fellow service members who have been injured in combat,” Smith said during an interview at the Peterson aquatics center.
This humbling statement demonstrates his steadfast honor and compassion. Although Smith’s leg amputation was non-combat related, the Warrior Games are universal in celebrating the “Warrior Spirit” that exists within us all.
“It is just an honor to be around these guys, knowing what they struggle with and go through on a daily basis just to do the small things that we take for granted. That motivates me and makes me proud to be a part of this,” Smith said.
“The Air Force through this whole process has been focused on getting the inured Airmen back in the game, back to living life,” he said. “We don’t care if you win; just getting you out there is a win. Placing in an event is just an added bonus but not the purpose,” he said while reflecting on his experience.
Smith will swim in four events during the Warrior Games, including the Men’s 50-meter Freestyle (single leg amputee), Men’s 100-meter Freestyle (SLA), Men’s 50-meter Backstroke (SLA) and Mixed 200-meter Freestyle Relay team. He will also compete in the shot put and discus track and field events.
As the Warrior Games come to a close, it is not about the medals, scores or times, but an opportunity to show respect to all injured service members. Not only during the Games but long after the stage lights and podiums are packed away.