Katie Smith (L) poses for a photo.
Katie Smith never quite reached the Paralympic Games, but that’s one of very few goals that eluded her.
Her remarkable life came to an early close when Smith of Stahlstown, Pennsylvania, died Feb. 27 at UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh. She was 36 years old.
Smith had been a longtime member of the USA Boccia National Team and had represented the U.S. internationally at competitions in Canada, England and Brazil. But her active lifestyle extended well beyond the boccia court. Smith was a member of the Pittsburgh Steelwheelers wheelchair rugby team, competed in the Pittsburgh Marathon three times as a handcyclist, and enjoyed adaptive skiing, curling and horseback riding.
The inspirational Smith was named “Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania” in 2013 for her many good works, which included her impact as an educator and with disabled individuals.
Smith had suffered a spinal cord injury in a 2007 car accident while a student at Penn State, but that didn’t stop her from leading a productive, influential life, much of it in service to others. She later graduated cum laude from Seton Hall University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with elementary and special education certificates.
USA Boccia posted a tribute to Smith on its website.
“For all of Katie’s skill as a Boccia player though, she was an even better person,” the tribute read. “Katie had an unmatched knack for connecting with others. She was a constant beacon of positivity, humor, and support for her own teammates and coaches. Yet, she also positively impacted competitors around the world. Many of these competitors reached out with notes expressing this after learning of Katie’s passing.
“While Katie’s time on Earth was far too short, the life she led and example she set will stay with us always.”
Cathy Drobny, a member of the USA Boccia board of directors, remembered Smith fondly.
“I had the opportunity to hang out with Katie, doing some tourist stuff, at the world championships in Liverpool,” Drobny recalled. “She was so fun to be with.
“She had a real love of sport, calling herself a ‘sport addict.’ She also had a natural ability for conversation with and interest in others.”