Admit it, Shayne Smith tells his listeners, when you see him, you feel sorry for him or think he’s weird looking or even repulsive.
Tell the truth, he urges, he can take it. The 24-year-old has pretty much heard it all.
Last week, he reciprocated that honesty and shared some stories, blunt insight, and hard-hitting inspiration with students at Sullivan Heights Secondary.
From his wheelchair, Smith took several classes of Grade 10 students back in time to when he was four months old.
It was 1988 and his mom was driving him to daycare when she noticed a red mark on his arm. She looked away, thinking it was nothing.
Minutes later, she saw more spots. And then more.
“Within that 10-minute drive, I was no longer white,” Smith told the room of teens. “I was black and red.”
By the time he got to hospital, he was gasping for air.
“My baby’s dying!” his mom shouted to whoever would listen in the ER.
The eventual diagnosis, after a seizure-filled transfer to a second hospital, was that Smith had a rare form of meningitis that affected his blood flow, forcing the amputation of several body parts.
Doctors told his mom, who slept by the toddler’s side in hospital for eight months, that her son had less than a two-per-cent chance of survival.
That was enough for her. She fought for his care then – and throughout his challenging upbringing.
“So, why should you guys care?” Smith asked Sullivan students.
“I’m here to tell you that you are the ones who decides what happens to you. The only limits we have are the ones we put on ourselves.”
Today, with no legs, one hand missing, partial fingers on the other hand, and a body blanketed in scars, Smith says he’s the poster child for someone who shouldn’t have achieved much in life.
An energetic kid, he began playing wheelchair basketball at age eight. It took four years before he scored his first basket.
“Why? Because I never gave up. I never quit. I kept going.”
By 14 he was kicked out of his basketball league. He was too good. Officials placed him on a team with 18- to 22-year-olds. By the next year he was on the Canadian Junior wheelchair basketball squad – one of the youngest players ever.
He went on to play at two Canada Games, one of which he was not only chosen captain by his teammates, but represented Team Ontario and carried the flag in the opening ceremony.
“That’s a long way from that kid who was told he wasn’t going to amount to anything, huh?”
He told students they have to believe they’re the best at everything they do and that failing or facing challenges makes success that much sweeter.
“There’s nothing that we cannot achieve.”
Sponsored by Tutor Doctor, Smith spoke at Sullivan Heights, Pacific Academy and several other venues as part of the Why Factor program, which promotes a better life through confidence-raising education.