As a baby, Shayne
Smith contracted a potentially deadly condition, and underwent multiple
amputations. But to whom much was taken away, much was also given.
Today, Smith, 25, is powered by his high-octane confidence. Over the
years, hes made history as an athlete, crossed paths with tons
of A-list celebrities, and now focuses on motivating young people
to breathe fire into their dreams. Recently, he spoke with our Lia
Lia Martirosyan: Tell me more about the journey that got you to
where you are today.
Smith: When I was four months old, I contracted a rare form of meningitis
called meningococcal septicemia, which attacked my bloodstream, so
all the blood in my body stopped. Doctors had to amputate my legs,
my left hand, and some fingers on my right hand to get the blood flowing
As I grew up, my mom was always very supportive of my independence;
she didnt let me feel sorry for myself. And I was not going
to let what happened to me stop me from being a kid and going out
and achieving things. At 3, my mom got me into swimming. At 6, she
got me into horseback riding. At 7, it was sledge hockey.
Martirosyan: Sledge hockey?
Smith: You have to understand: When youre 7 years old and living
in Canada, hockey is everything. Back then, my cousin, Mitch, was
my best friend, and after he started playing hockey, I couldnt
understand why I couldnt do it, too. I was very jealous. So
then I found out about sledge hockey, where you sit on a toboggan-type
sled, and you have two sticks. On one end is a hockey blade, and on
the other is a figure-skating pick. So you dig into the ice, and thats
how you skate. To make it work, we used a little plastic cup that
slipped onto my arm, we cut a stick in half, and coming out of the
tip was the hockey blade, and coming out of the elbow was the figure
skating pick, so that I could skate. In my second year, Mitch and
I got to play together. Moments like that made me realize that different
doesnt mean inferior. Everyone is equal.
Martirosyan: But you didnt stop at hockey
Smith: Right. When I turned 8, I found wheelchair basketball, which
opened doors for me. It took me four years to score my first basket,
but by 15 I was playing on the Canadian Junior Team. I was there until
I was about 23, and then I started doing little motivational speeches
here and there on behalf of the team. Finally, about two years ago,
I decided, You know what? I want to do motivational speaking
for a living.
Martirosyan: Im sure your story motivates people.
Smith: People always tell me, Oh, my gosh, Shayne, youre
so strong! Youre so amazing! You have such a big heart.
And my answer always is: I got it from my mom.
Smith: She not only raised me, but she did it on her own. My dad split.
So she was Mom, Dad, taxi driver, basketball coach, hockey coach...
She was everything. To this day, if anyone asks me who my best friend
is, its my mom. I know it sounds cheesy, but were best
Martirosyan: Thats beautiful. Tell me more about your motivational
speaking? Did someone approach you about getting into it?
Smith: I gave my first presentation during a luncheon where Wayne
Gretzkys dad had won Father of the Year. There were about 900
people there, and little 8-year-old Shayne got up and started speaking.
It was on behalf of Variety Village in Toronto, the gym where I played
basketball. Its a sports and training facility for people with
all kinds of challenges, and people without any. Meaning that it was
basically a training facility for everybody. I happened to be there
to promote it. So after I spoke, everyone came up to me and said:
Youre really good at this; you should do it for a living.
So I gave another speech and another one, and now at 25 I run a speaking
Martirosyan: What does running a speakers bureau entail?
Smith: Im the boss. Im the president. Its called
Nolimitz, spelled with a z, because I want it to be hip and cool.
I just go out and do motivational speaking, and its awesome.
Financially my companys very new, and were not there yet,
but I have a great sponsor in Tutor Doctor. They send me to all their
franchisees to spread my message to kids. Without their help I would
never be able to do what I do.
Kids always say, Im not dumb, I dont need a tutor.
But I ask them: Did Michael Jordan have a coach? And they
say, Yeah. Then I say, And he was one of the best
basketball players in history. A coach and a tutor are basically the
same thing. So if I can get kids to look at it like that, they
can get the help they need to create a brighter future for themselves.
Martirosyan: Great reference.
Smith: Exactly. Now, I could stand to be brought down a few notches
on the humble chain, but I think Im one of the best speakers
in the world, and I have a speaking coach, too.
Martirosyan: When did you start getting coached on how to speak?
Smith: About two years ago. As a matter of fact, I was coached by
the people at Tutor Doctor.
Martirosyan: Would you say motivational speaking is your passion?
Smith: Definitely! I see myself doing this for the next 10 or 15 years.
And when Im done speaking, Ill be the first physically
challenged coach of an NBA team. Thats gonna happen.
Martirosyan: How are you working towards that?
Smith: I know the sport very well. I know the plays. I know how to
coach people. When the time comes, Ill get there. Right now
Im just focusing on the speaking side, and a little bit on of
the hip-hop on the side.
Martirosyan: Tell me about your rapping.
Smith: I started rapping and freestyling at 14 or 15, and then everyone
again said, Oh, youre really good, you should pursue this.
My best friend is my producer, as well as my speaking manager. Were
really, really tight. We do everything together. He came over one
day and he made a beat. He was like, Spit. Spit on it. Lets
go. Next thing you know I wrote something, and now we have two
songs up on Sound Cloud. Were working on an entire project,
actually. Most hip-hop artists today, and dont get me
wrong, I love Wayne, I love 2 Chainz, I love that stuff, but
what are they really saying? Not much.
With me, theres no cussing; my music is all motivational. How
many songs like that are there out there? Weve got guys like
Macklemore, who I think is incredible. Hes got that Same
Love song, which is great and empowers people. A couple of weeks
ago, I got to hang out with him in Philadelphia. I want to do stuff
like he does, letting people know that just because youre different
doesnt mean youre not as good.
Martirosyan: Macklemore, nice experience. Tell us something else
that you want people to know about you.
Smith: The biggest thing that people need to know in this world is
that theres no limit. We always hear people say: The skys
the limit. I think thats a load of BS. We have footprints
on the moon; we have Felix Baumgartner skydiving from space. So dont
tell me the skys the limit. The sky was the limit back when
we didnt think going above the sky was really possible. Now
there is no limit.
Speaking of which
lets talk about my basketball career.
I played for about 17 years for on the Junior National Team in Canada.
I feel proud of the fact that Im the only player in history
to do that with half a hand. Im the only Jewish Canadian wheelchair
basketball player in the world right now. When I was approached by
the Maccabi USA team to go to Israel and play there, it was a great
opportunity and a great experience. I had already retired, and hadnt
played in about a year and a half, but then when I thought about it,
I figured, as a Jewish athlete, what better way was there.
You can read
the complete article and the full magazine, including all of the photos
in our Digi issue, by clicking "Like"
from the Stevie
Wonder Issue Jun/Jul 2014:
Shayne — Meningococcal Septicemia
China — Love of Music
VOICEYE — Accessible Code
Stevie Wonder — Isn’t
EARN — Statistics
Japan — Aging is Changing a Country
in the Stevie Wonder Issue; Senator Harkin — Possibilties of
ADA; Ashley Fiolek — Back on Track; Humor — Physical Torture;
Geri Jewell — Boom, there it is!; Dia— Bachelor of Arts
in Deaf Studies; China — Love of Music; Long Haul Paul —
Powder Blue Tuxedo; Betsy — NextSTEP; Japan — Aging is
Changing a Country; Shayne — Meningococcal Septicemia; Special
Olympics — Staying Active; VOICEYE — Accessible Code;
Stevie Wonder — Isn’t He Lovely?!; EARN — Statistics;
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