Alex Smith On His Dramatic NFL Comeback After Leg Injury
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It's been over two years since Washington Football Team's quarterback Alex Smith suffered a life-changing leg injury on the football field. Today, he's opening up to Rachael about his November 2018 injury, inspiring recovery at the Center for the Intrepid and triumphant comeback in October 2020.
"It could have been any given Sunday, but Sunday, November 18, 2018, was a day that changed Alex Smith's life forever," Rach explains. "Alex was leading his team in a heated battle against the Houston Texans when he suffered what most would consider a catastrophic injury. It was a compound spiral fracture that resulted in multiple surgeries — three plates, 28 screws and pins in his leg."
"Though the surgeries were successful, a severe infection set in," Rach continues. "Alex developed stage 2 sepsis. Doctors and families feared that he might not only lose his leg, but his life. Alex said, 'It is my leg and my life.' He begged them to do everything they could to save his leg."
"Less than three months later, with special permission from the Pentagon, he continued on to rehab with veterans — vets who had suffered similar injuries," Rach says. "Alex actually threw his first football during a PT session, at the very place that was helping him back to the football field. With hard work and through what must have been unimaginable pain — and that perseverance of his — Alex has made one of the most dramatic comebacks in NFL history, leading his team to a 5 and 1 record as a starter and cementing, most certainly, his place in football history."
Alex Smith on overcoming dark moments following his injury:
"When it was really dark and I was still in the hospital and there were so many unknowns about whether or not I was going to be able to keep my leg — would I walk again? would I be able to do anything again on my feet? — those were all real question marks for a long time, let alone being able to play with my kids or ride a bike or play football again. At that point, it really was my family. My wife and kids were really my inspiration at that point and just being the best father and husband I could be no matter what. And in the big picture, regardless of what happened with my leg, that I was still very fortunate to be alive, to have healthy kids, to have an amazing wife. They say in sickness and in health, and she got tested, for sure. She wore so many hats on top of being a wife and a mother — [being] my nurse and caretaker every single day. There was a long time [when] I was helpless as well as a burden on the family."
On the moment when he realized he could make a comeback + rehabbing at the Center for the Intrepid:
"For me, there were so many negative outside voices … [saying] I'll never play again [and] that I should be happy just being able to get on my feet again. I had spent so long hearing all that noise, and sometimes your mind does go down those negative paths. 'What will I ever be able to do again?' You build up these walls in your head, [thinking], 'I may never be able to play with my kids. I may never be able to go on a hike with my wife. I may never be able to shoot hoops.' All these things that I doubted for so long. So then when the rehab process started, for me, really, it goes to when I first went down to that Center for the Intrepid. They were the first people to really push the opposite, [saying], 'No, you can go play again if you want to. You can do anything you want again.' [They] challenged me and pushed me, and I needed that. At that point, you're feeling a little sorry for yourself. And here were the experts, telling me no, I can do it if I want to and certainly even egging me on and pushing me and encouraging me, [giving me] a little kick in the butt. That, for me, was a big eye opener, going down there. Service men and women with way more severe injuries than I had weren't feeling sorry for themselves at all and were getting after it every single day, finding a way to get better. [I'm] so grateful that I had that opportunity and that I had them involved in my rehab and still there today. Life comes at us. We all have our dark days. You can be as positive as you want and life comes at you and can be hard at times and we all need lifting up. And I know how much I needed it when I was down."
On getting hit for the first time during his first time back on the football field:
"When I ran out on the field, thank God it happened so fast. I didn't really have time to think a whole lot. I just got a couple throws in and ran out there, but it was such an amazing rush of so many emotions. Certainly I'd be lying if I said I didn't have some anxiety about going out there and getting hit finally, but for me, it was also the focus on the positive side of how good it felt to be doing something like that again. To be living again, to really put yourself out there and be vulnerable. It had been a long time that I walked around on eggshells and rolled around in a wheelchair and a walker — doing everything I could to protect my leg. I got the okay from the doctors, and here I was, back out on a football field, something I never dreamt in my wildest dreams was actually going to happen. So for me, just really embracing that moment, being present in it, enjoying it. I had no idea how long it was going to last, and I was determined to go out there and like I said, make the most of it."
On rehab work he still does daily:
"There was a long time that I just jumped around on my left leg. I did everything on my left leg, so for me to kind of still be regaining strength and get back my balance, those are things I still work on daily."
On getting support from fellow football players, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady:
"I think the thing that goes unnoticed a lot [is during the] two years before [my first game back], how much I appreciated so many people reaching out — Patrick and Tom included. Those were both guys I heard from throughout my recovery process, from after I broke my leg to when I got cleared to even be in camp. It did lift me up and keep me going. It was such a great reminder for me to try to be that as well going forward for others. It doesn't get much better than Patrick and Tom as far as compliments go, so I'm grateful for that."
On what the future holds for him:
"For me, this year was such a crazy rush to be out there, practicing out there every single day. To be able to put on my cleats and helmet. But for me, the crazy thing was how well my body responded to that. I just feel like I continued to get stronger and stronger and better and better. I still feel like I'm kind of a kid right now headed into the offseason. I'm excited for this offseason to see what I can go do — football and everything else. Skiing, snowboarding — I plan on doing as much as I can. I had such an amazing time playing. I felt so good out there. It was crazy after that first game how comfortable I felt back out on the field."
On being a "full-time dad" during the offseason:
"I love every day picking them up from school, and it's like, 'What can we get into?' They're [at] such a fun age right now. They can do so much. They soak up so much. Those were the initial things for me that were really the most serious. Was I ever going to be able to go do those everyday things again with my kids? I'm so lucky to get to do it, and they're amazing kids. That's the best part about the offseason as a player is you get to be a full-time dad."
On what he hopes to see during Super Bowl LV:
"In games like that, I want a great game, I think like the rest of America. There are amazing competitors on both sides, and I think that's what I appreciate. When quarantine and Covid hit and when we didn't have sports, [I realized] how much I appreciate the competition. Athletes going out there and putting it on the line. Certainly, it's amazing to watch, especially the best of the best [going] out there to compete. Looking forward to it."
On how his injury + recovery inspired his new clothing line with Attitude Is Free:
"It was an amazing partnership. It was perfect, with Attitude is Free. When I summed up how I even got back — obviously, I was pretty lucky in so many instances, as far as physicality goes — it did come back to attitude and mindset. 100 percent of all of the proceeds are going to go back to the Center for the Intrepid, the place that was so integral to my recovery process. It's an amazing, amazing place. So many of our service men and women are still down there and for the rest of their lives will need some kind of healthcare and different things. [I'm] so thankful to be able to give back in the smallest of ways. It's an amazing company. Every time I put this shirt on, it's a little bit of a challenge to myself to live it. If you're going to put that on your chest, that day, I'm going to go live like that."