Getting His Uniform

By Nicholas Goda | Dec. 14, 2012, 6 p.m. (ET)
Jessica Long and Elizabeth Stone with Benjamin SmithParalympic swimmers Jessica Long (L) and Elizabeth Stone pose with Benjamin Smith during his Olympic Training Center visit.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- In November 2011, 10-year-old Benjamin Smith went to the doctor for what his mom thought was a ganglion cyst. 

“They [doctors] told us no big deal; we’ll remove it if it causes him any pain,” his mother, Krystal, said.

Fast forward to April when Benjamin accidentally bumped it.

“It swelled to the size of a golf ball.  They removed it June 4 and called me on June 6,” said Krystal.

The doctors did a routine biopsy, as standard with surgically removed tissues, and Krystal heard the word no parent wants to hear: cancer.

Benjamin had his left foot amputated.

“He’s been really depressed thinking that every dream he’s had has been shot down and put on hold.  Right from the get-go people were saying, ‘You’re not going to be able to do this or that,’” Krystal said. 

Calls were made and Benjamin had a special trip planned for him.

The World Class Athlete program contacted with the Olympic Training Center to give Benjamin a unique day.

Thinking he was going to another doctor’s appointment Benjamin received a happy surprise walking into the Fort Carson WCAP headquarters. 

“His face lit up, he was so happy,” said Paralympic track and field hopeful Jerrod Fields.

Fields, like Benjamin, is an amputee.  As a U.S. Army soldier, Fields deployed to Iraq.  In 2005 while on a reconnaissance mission he got injured by an improvised explosive device.  Fields was able to drive his comrades back to base and received a Bronze Star for his actions.  He had his leg amputated so he could continue his career in the Army.

Fields had no qualms about helping Benjamin out. 

“As soon as they shot me the information and told me what it was about I was all for it.”

Benjamin’s favorite part of the day was getting his uniform.  He joined the WCAP athletes in formation where he was given his own Army uniform, personalized dog tags and a fresh buzz-cut to meet military standards. 

“For him to fall in the ranks with us, salute and have a uniform with dog tags – it completely lit him up,” Fields said.  “He was so happy because one of the things [he wanted] before the injury was to be a soldier.”

After an eventful tour of Fort Carson, and a hard workout, Benjamin and company transitioned to the Olympic Training Center for lunch and a special tour.

“The best cheeseburger ever,” Benjamin said of his lunch. 

Jessica Long shows Benjamin Smith her gold medal 
 Jessica Long shows her London 2012 gold medal to Benjamin

During lunch he was introduced to Jessica Long, who earned eight swimming medals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.  “I actually saw her Paralympic medal!  It was cool because it showed an angel’s wing and it had braille if you’re blind,” he explained. 

Long and Paralympic swimming teammate Elizabeth Stone took Benjamin to the pool, where they explained their training regimen and all the technological advantages they have.

Long enjoyed helping out because “he didn’t notice we [Long and Stone] wore prosthetics until we showed him, so it motivated him.”

Fields wanted to inspire Benjamin further.  “I told him don’t quit, you can do it, just push through.  You can fulfill and do anything you want.” 

He expects to see Benjamin again soon. 

“I truly believe he will be here in a few years.  This is going to push him to whatever it is he wants to do.”

Excited to try new sports, Benjamin wants to try shooting soon.

“I think they showed him he can stay strong, be strong,” Krystal said, “just keep going.”

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