Atlanta, GA,
11:06 AM

Riding to Recovery - Noah Smith’s Story

After sustaining a spinal cord injury, Noah Smith used the healing power of adaptive sports to feel like himself again.

“For someone newly in a chair, it was good to have people in chairs around you who have been doing this for a while. Not just to learn from them, but to have people who know exactly what you’re dealing with. There, they do.” 

Noah Smith

On the weekends, Noah Smith often grabs his mountain bike, water bottle, and helmet and heads out for a day of mountain biking with his friends. So, when a spinal cord injury threatened his sense of self, he pivoted and found the healing power of adaptive sports.

One month before Noah’s 18th birthday, he was out with his friends at a trampoline park, enjoying a day of fun and recreation. In an attempt to do a double front flip, Noah landed on his head, sustaining a high-level spinal cord injury. He was rushed to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, where he received treatment and was referred to Shepherd Center.  

Noah spent two months as an inpatient at Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program, grinding hard to regain his strength. Once he went home, he didn't stop there. Noah returned for the Day Program, pushing himself to new limits. That’s when he heard about the Shepherd Smash rugby team, one of the 11 adaptive sports teams of Shepherd Center’s Fred, Shaler, and Andrew Alias Sports Teams Program. Being part of the Smash pushed his rehabilitation to a new level.

“About a year after my injury, I was asked to come try out adaptive rugby,” says Noah. “For someone newly in a chair, it was good to have people in chairs around you who have been doing this for a while. Not just to learn from them, but to have people who know exactly what you’re dealing with. There, they do.”

Being part of that team gave him a sense of camaraderie and a chance to unleash his competitive side again, but that was just the beginning. Noah found other adrenaline-pumping activities like waterskiing after participating in Shepherd Center’s Adventure Skills Workshop (ASW), a weekend camp designed for people with life-changing injuries or illnesses to practice hands-on adventure skills. There, he met Bill Furbish, an 11-time national champion in adaptive waterskiing and the adaptive waterski coach.

 “He saw that I had an interest and took me under his wing, and he hasn’t let go since.”

On top of picking up two new sports, Noah could not stay away from his true love: mountain biking.

“Now that I was in this new life, I felt like the only way to truly get back to being myself was through mountain biking,” explains Noah. “It was the longest sport to get back to because I didn’t have the means to get a mountain bike. So, the community came together to help me raise funds and get back to mountain biking. I feel like I’m myself again.”

Noah’s mission is to raise awareness for adaptive mountain biking in the Southeast so he can help others regain their independence as well.

Adaptive sports have been a game-changer for Noah – both physically and mentally. Being surrounded by people who understand what he's been through and having the chance to compete again have been essential in building his confidence.

“Of all the paths you can take to rehabilitation, I think sports is the number one,” he says. “If you can, I definitely recommend giving it a try.” 

Written by Lindsey Rieben

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About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.