During his recovery, Alex Smith’s leg injury was considered so severe that he was granted special access to visit the Center for the Intrepid — a military facility in San Antonio, Texas, usually reserved for those with combat wounds. The Washington quarterback took three trips to the center after gaining clearance to receive treatment.
The experience, Smith said, left the quarterback humbled. Not just because of the doctors’ consultations, but because he witnessed service members with salvaged limbs fighting their way back.
“I probably would not be here today if it wasn’t for the center down there,” Smith said.
Smith’s “here” was the team’s headquarters in Ashburn, Virginia, where he’s preparing for his first start in two years when Washington takes on the Detroit Lions this weekend.
But on Tuesday, the 36-year-old took a break from his preparation for Sunday’s game to participate in an online video conference with veterans undergoing treatment at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Smith and coach Ron Rivera talked with the veterans about their own battles — Smith’s from his injury, Rivera’s from his cancer — and answered questions from military families.
Smith and Rivera were asked how they were able to keep going.
“You try to be as positive as possible and keep a good mindset,” Smith said. “But we all have our dark days. … It’s just a stepping stone. There was a long time where you’re working on walking and that’s all I was really thinking about. Once you kind of conquer that, it’s ‘OK, what’s next?’ You just try to keep tackling those goals step-by-step.”
Rivera echoed a similar message, saying his attitude was key. During car rides with his family to the hospital to undergo treatment, Rivera said he would be thinking, “I got this” so he would be mentally ready for what was ahead. He then carried over that same mindset to practice, where he’d often feel the side effects from his chemotherapy — only to usually push though it.
Both said the support they received from family and friends helped tremendously.
Tuesday’s event was another instance of the team reaching out to nearby veterans. Since arriving to Washington in January, Rivera said it’s his goal to forge a bond with the military community — just as he did in Carolina when he coached the Panthers. Rivera, of course, holds a special connection with the armed forces. He grew up moving from military base to military base while his father served as an officer in the Army.
Smith, too, has ties to service members.
His great grandfather and grandfather served in the Army and Navy during World War I and World War II respectively, he said.
Smith, though, said his experience in San Antonio helped him better understand “how real it is” for service members to put their bodies in harm’s way to protect the county.
“These men and women that have really toed the line for us. … It’s obviously one thing to talk about, but when you’re face-to-face with it, it’s how much you do appreciate their sacrifice,” Smith said.
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