Quadriplegic Brian Smith was asked to be a spinal cord injury mentor at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, where he worked alongside victims of the marathon bombing. COURTESY
MANCHESTER -- BRIAN SMITH joined his family and friends at Lake Winnipesaukee this past weekend, as he has for years, but the 6-foot former marathoner now has to watch from shore when everyone else boards the boats to go out on the lake.
A year after his diving accident, Brian Smith lives in Arlington, Mass., in a wheelchair accessible apartment. He will be in Manchester Aug. 18 for a “Fun Run” organized by his friends.
The 1983 Trinity High School graduate, who played football and rugby and worked as a construction equipment broker, was always in the midst of the action.
Until last Aug. 18, when he took one last dive off the boat and broke his neck.
Smith’s brother-in-law, Manchester Fire Department Lt. Glenn Jette, said no one noticed Smith go off the boat and he could have drowned.
“It’s a miracle,” said Jette, that somehow Smith was able to make it to the side of the boat. But Smith didn’t look good, so Jette asked: “Are you OK? Do you want some help?”
Smith’s brother, Daren, and a half-dozen others in the group with medical or EMT experience began working on him. The Moultonborough rescue squad neck-braced and back-boarded him for the helicopter flight to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Smith survived.
The 48-year-old is considered a quadriplegic, with paralysis of arms and legs. He now lives in Arlington, Mass., in an apartment that is wheelchair accessible. A personal care attendant comes in daily to help.
But the man who ran seven Boston Marathons — five to raise money for the Jimmy Fund to benefit children with cancer — isn’t willing to settle. He’s determined to continue improving. He intends to get back on his feet.
Smith will be in Manchester for a special race this Aug. 18, exactly a year after his accident, when his friends hold a “Fun Run” to help with his progress.
Organized by Kevin Comerford, a friend since high school at Trinity, the 2.7-mile walk/run around Derryfield Park, is a chance to support Smith and his continuing efforts to regain mobility.
After three months in an induced coma and many more months of physical and occupational therapy, Smith believes he can make more progress toward independence.
“I’m moving my foot a little bit,” he said. He has some feeling in his hands, too.
Smith has been doing rehab with victims from the Boston Marathon bombing.
“Spaulding Rehab in Boston asked me to be a spinal cord injury mentor to patients at the hospital, which I gladly accepted,” he said.
But he is now focused on getting therapy at a nonprofit organization called Journey Forward in Canton, Mass. The program is not covered by insurance, but Smith said it is his best chance of continuing to improve mobility.
Instead of helping him adjust to life in a chair, he said, the goal at Journey Forward is to help him get out of it. Hand cycles and stand-up frames, electrical stimulation and other techniques are part of the program.
“It’s all about keeping the bone density up,” said the man who once ran as what he called a “Clydesdale,” a running category for big, bulky guys.
Daren Smith said his big brother was always a runner, trying to stay in shape. “That day ... of the injury, he ran up a big hill,” said Daren Smith.
The Aug. 18 event is planned as more than just a run/walk benefit for “Bubba.” It’s meant to be a social event as well. Everyone is invited to return to the school afterward to enjoy music, food and other refreshments, including beverages that can be brought by those taking part in the event.
The first 200 runners to register will receive a T-shirt. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. at Trinity HIgh School, 581 Bridge St., and the race begins promptly at 9 a.m., rain or shine. The route starts and finishes at the Bridge Street entrance to Derryfield Park, across from Trinity, and loops around to Belmont Street and back, a total of 2.7 miles.
The requested donation is $30, with checks made payable to the “Brian Smith Friendship Fund.”
Questions about the event can be directed to Smith’s brother, Cell: 781-760-1620 or Darensmith@me.com or to Kevin Comerford at 978-257-0623,