Paralympic gold medallist and former Bede student Jack Smith MBE paid a visit to his former college where he shared his experiences at the height of his game.
On the back of Team GB’s silver win at the Wheelchair Rugby European Championships this month, the 31-year-old from Sedgefield spoke of his disappointment at being pipped at the post by France for the second year running.
While he admitted, despite the silverware, the disappointment of a defeat does hurt, he said: “As a life-long rugby fan it was an amazing experience, getting to play at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium where I have watched so many big games on TV.”
For Jack, who has twice battled cancer in his life, it is yet another example of how you should never let setbacks stop you from achieving your goals, a message he was keen to share with sport students during his visit to Billingham’s Bede Sixth Form College.
Paralysed from the chest down after breaking his neck in a random rugby accident aged just 16, he had to build a new way of life.
He said: “Sport had always been massive to me. In hospital there was a guy, Shaun Lacey from the Spinal Injuries Association, who came around to talk about life after injury. He suggested I try wheelchair rugby.”
After months in hospital, Jack spoke of the appeal of being on the rugby pitch. He said: “The accident happened in the January, and I first tried wheelchair rugby in September.”
Hardly able to move the chair he admitted in the early days he didn’t show much talent, but he loved the rough and tumble of being back in the game.
Studying PE and biology at Bede at the time, of his sport he said: “There was nothing else I wanted to do. It gave me something to focus on.”
In 2021 Jack eventually achieved his life’s goal of playing on the world’s biggest stage, selected to play for Team GB in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Paralympic Games, where the team brought home the gold.
“I had been part of the squad but had never really been selected to play until then,” he said. “Finding out I was going and everything that has happened since then has been amazing and ridiculous.”
Jack was appointed an MBE for his services to sport in the Queen’s 2022 New Year’s Honours list. He added: “That was something I never expected to happen.”
Next on the wish list is a place in the squad for the Paris 2024 Summer Paralympic Games, and of course, retaining their gold title.
Bede Sixth Form College teacher Andrew Featherstone said: “It was great to be able to welcome Jack, part of the college’s alumni, back to Bede to speak about the adversity he has faced taking him from his accident through to being a Paralympic gold medallist. What Jack has achieved is a real inspiration.”
Modest about his achievements, Jack said: “I am quite a quiet person normally, but it is good to challenge yourself. It is nice that people are interested in my story but for me it is my life.”