IJAMSVILLE, Md. (WDVM) – In a somewhat quiet gym setting, Hailey Smith moves from her day chair, to her basketball chair; in preparation for a light day, allowing a look into her world right now.
Her world turned upside down back in November 2019, due to an injury that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Fast forward almost a year and a half, Hailey is beaming at the chance to speak about all the new changes she’s been able to adapt to.
“So this, it was almost like freedom. Because I could push faster.” said Hailey Smith, when describing what the early moments on the court were like for her, “It was amazing, I – I pushed all around as fast as I could, it was amazing.”
Through the Kennedy Krieger Physically Challenged Sports and Recreation Program, and the Bennett Blazers; Hailey has found a new love for sports, a love that can be enjoyed through the help of some equipment. But the journey to get there, was difficult to start.
“She was in a lot of pain, broken ribs, broken shoulder blades; along with a broken back. So the first- probably month was just trying to accept that and make things feel better.” said Heather Smith, Hailey’s mom, who described the early stages of Hailey’s recovery. “She’s also extremely good, at trying to put the problem in perspective, and figuring a way out for herself.”
Back in May 2021, WDVM shared Hailey’s final moments as a Hawk on the softball field for Urbana High School, during their senior night. Those moments gave us a snippet into the outpouring of love from a community that knows Hailey on a more personal level. And through the Bennett Blazers, she received that same love, and confidence.
“With her background she was – played softball, played basketball.” said Gwena Herman, Director of Kennedy Krieger Physically Challenged Sports and Recreation Program, “So I knew she would adapt very quickly; the sport is the exact same thing. Competitors are competitors, I just knew she was going to need help developing her wheelchair skills.”
Hailey’s early days with the Blazers weren’t a walk in the park either, by any stretch. At times, disheartening.
“A sport that I used to play, I couldn’t even reach the basketball hoop.” said Hailey, “But as I got stronger, I fell in love with it even more.”
There were a lot of small goals to reach; being able to score underneath the basket, slowly extending her range away from the hoop, being able to incorporate chair skills, and much more. She progressed so quickly, within months Hailey was a starting member of the Blazers’ wheelchair basketball team, getting looks from college coaches; till she came to her decision to go to the University of Illinois, for their Women’s Wheelchair basketball team.
As someone who has dedicated her life to helping people in Hailey’s situation or worse; Gwena’s lesson remains crystal clear.
“I think the biggest lesson is to realize that these guys are athletes, just like able bodied athletes. They put in the time, they put in the work, and they want to compete and achieve the greatest success possible.” said Gwena.
For Hailey, life has been a whirlwind in recent memory. Between the end of high school, and continuing to grow her skillset, on top of preparing for a new life in college; it’s been a lot to process. But nothing shake’s the positivity of hers.
“I’m just excited for the future, a lot of doors are opening for me. It just seems like one door is opening and another one, and just really good opportunities that I can take.” said Hailey.
Opportunities that she can take, one shot at a time.