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Boccia Athlete Katie Smith Leaves Behind Legacy Of Achievement And Service

By Bob Reinert | April 28, 2022, 1:58 p.m. (ET)

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.”

Katie Smith (R) poses for a photo.


Charley Wright was a friend of Smith’s who also coached her on the USA Boccia team in the BC4 classification.

“She was such a trooper and always wanted to help the team and support all of us, including us coaches,” Wright recalled. “It saddens me that she is gone, and we have lost a good friend and teammate.   

“In the short period of time she was able to represent Team USA, Katie was able to make a large positive impact on the world stage of boccia. I have had over a dozen athletes from around the world sending their condolences of Katie’s passing, showing the positive vibes she shared with others.   

“I am proud and honored to have had the opportunity to coach Katie, but mostly to gain a new friend in this path of life.  She was special to all of us that knew her in and out of boccia and other adaptive sports, like quad rugby, and various community support programs. Her impact might be small on the court, but her lasting smile and laughter will last for years to come.”

Josie Badger, Ms. Wheelchair America in 2012, spoke to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about Smith.

“She was one of those one-in-a-million people,” Badger told the Tribune-Review. “I personally never met anyone who did not like Katie.”

Retired Tribune-Review executive managing editor Jerry DeFlitch had served as Smith’s high school soccer coach.

“Anyone who knew her will tell you she had a clever, quiet sense of humor and expressed care and concern for others in need,” DeFlitch told the newspaper. “Most impressively, she had that exact same personality and character after the accident and through her therapy. That was inspiring to me, and I am sure it was to all those who encountered her.”

Memorial contributions may be made in Smith’s memory to Three Rivers Adaptive Sports, P.O. Box 38235, Pittsburgh, PA 15216 or www.traspa.org, and the Pittsburgh Steelwheelers, www.pittsburghsteelwheelers.com.

Bob Reinert

Bob Reinert spent 17 years writing sports for The Boston Globe. He also served as a sports information director at Saint Anselm College and Phillips Exeter Academy. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Katie Smith