Brad Smith, a master’s student in counseling who graduated this spring, has always been a motivated person. The former elementary school physical education teacher ran triathlons for fun. Since a serious accident left him in a wheelchair, he seeks to motivate others with physical disabilities.
Smith, who has a bachelor’s in exercise physiology from Ohio University and a master’s in education from Ohio State University, taught in Ohio schools for six years. When his wife Carrie accepted a job in Asheville, N.C., he worked as a substitute and then a teacher’s assistant for the spring semester.
On June 1, 2010, he was cycling in North Carolina when a car pulled out in front of his bike causing him to crash. Once he stabilized, the Smiths researched rehabilitation facilities, deciding on Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
Faced with reevaluating his goals, his wife suggested he return to school.
“I still want to work with kids,” he said. “But teaching physical education would be challenging. I had thought about school counseling as something I wanted to do 15 to 20 years down the road.”
For Smith, the decision to go back to school was a choice that reflected his determination to further his education, despite any challenges he would face.
“Many of the motivational speakers I hear talk about how much they want to prove others wrong when told they can’t do this or that,” he said. “I’m more internally motivated. I had to prove to myself that I could still do it. I have a hand cycle, and we ride out at Stone Mountain regularly.”
He also races wheelchairs for Shepherd. The couple has initiated a para-triathlon program with the Atlanta Triathlon Club.
“We’re trying to recruit people with various disabilities, such as spinal cord injuries, amputees or spina bifida,” he said.
With graduation behind him, Smith is considering enrolling in the College of Education’s doctoral program in physical education teacher education.
“I can’t teach the way I used to, but I can make an impact by teaching teachers,” he said. The other alternative is becoming a school counselor.
“Long term, I would like to be a high school counselor or a college professor in physical education,” Smith said.
Meanwhile, he is training for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.
This story was originally published in the Fall 2012 issue of the College of Education’s Milestones magazine.