Shayne Smith

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, he’s 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 Martirosyan.

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 again.

As I grew up, my mom was always very supportive of my independence; she didn’t 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 you’re 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 couldn’t understand why I couldn’t 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 that’s 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 doesn’t mean inferior. Everyone is equal.

Martirosyan: But you didn’t 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: I’m sure your story motivates people.

Smith: People always tell me, “Oh, my gosh, Shayne, you’re so strong! You’re so amazing! You have such a big heart.” And my answer always is: “I got it from my mom.”

Martirosyan: Excellent.

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, it’s my mom. I know it sounds cheesy, but we’re best friends.

Martirosyan: That’s 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 Gretzky’s 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. It’s 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: “You’re 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 company.

Martirosyan: What does running a speakers’ bureau entail?

Smith: I’m the boss. I’m the president. It’s called Nolimitz, spelled with a z, because I want it to be hip and cool. I just go out and do motivational speaking, and it’s awesome. Financially my company’s very new, and we’re 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, “I’m not dumb, I don’t 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 I’m 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 I’m done speaking, I’ll be the first physically challenged coach of an NBA team. That’s 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, I’ll get there. Right now I’m 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, you’re really good, you should pursue this.” My best friend is my producer, as well as my speaking manager. We’re really, really tight. We do everything together. He came over one day and he made a beat. He was like, “Spit. Spit on it. Let’s go.” Next thing you know I wrote something, and now we have two songs up on Sound Cloud. We’re working on an entire project, actually. Most hip-hop artists today—, and don’t get me wrong, I love Wayne, I love 2 Chainz, I love that stuff—, but what are they really saying? Not much.

With me, there’s no cussing; my music is all motivational. How many songs like that are there out there? We’ve got guys like Macklemore, who I think is incredible. He’s 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 you’re different doesn’t mean you’re 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 there’s no limit. We always hear people say: “The sky’s the limit.” I think that’s a load of BS. We have footprints on the moon; we have Felix Baumgartner skydiving from space. So don’t tell me the sky’s the limit. The sky was the limit back when we didn’t think going above the sky was really possible. Now there is no limit.
Speaking of which…let’s 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 I’m the only player in history to do that with half a hand. I’m 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 hadn’t 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.

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Excerpts from the Stevie Wonder Issue Jun/Jul 2014:

Shayne — Meningococcal Septicemia

China — Love of Music

VOICEYE — Accessible Code

Stevie Wonder — Isn’t He Lovely?

EARN — Statistics

Japan — Aging is Changing a Country

Articles 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; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences... subscribe

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