Middle blocker and Santa Clarita native David Smith is having a huge year: he welcomed his first child and is headed to the Olympics for the first time with Team USA men’s volleyball.
Smith was born with about 80 percent hearing loss, but says his hearing impairment has only forced him to be a better athlete.
“I don’t think anybody could have really expected me to be where I am today,” he said with a slight chuckle.
Smith’s mother, Nancy, says he was raised to not think of his hearing loss as an obstacle.
“I don’t think of David as my hearing-impaired son. I just think of David as my son,” she said.
The middle blocker says it’s taken years of hard work, but he’s living a dream playing center court for Team USA.
“My parents would always tell me, ‘You’re the only one who’s stopping you from doing what you want to do,’” Smith said.
Nancy and her husband Rick Smith insisted their son attend mainstream schools and play on mainstream teams.
“You always need to be your child’s advocate, but you can never let his handicap be an excuse,” Nancy said. “He still needs to be held to that same standard. Don’t let him get away with, ‘I can’t hear.’”
Smith wears two hearing aids, but those only help him hear certain things, under specific, quiet circumstances. So, Smith relies heavily on his ability to read lips. And by all accounts is an expert lip reader. As a result some people are not even aware of his hearing impairment.
But that ability is of little help to him on the volleyball court, where it is loud, fast and the action happening all around him does not allow him the ability to see his teammates’ faces to help with the communicating.
Smith says he deals with the challenge by taking “more responsibility with ball control in my area.”
He also jokes that in some way being deaf can help him focus, and automatically blocks out some of the heckling that happens in every sport.
The Olympics have always been a big deal to the Smith family: growing up the Smiths did not have a TV, but every winter and summer Olympics they would order cable for that one-month block.
Smith was an athletic kid – he played lots of sports including baseball and basketball – but he didn’t start with volleyball until ninth grade at Saugus High School.
“He moved, you know, quickly from not playing the game at all to playing well,” Rick said.
Looking back, Smith still seems surprised that he was recruited to play volleyball at UC Irvine. He had graduated high school with plans to go to UC Santa Barbara for the academics, but during tournament play that summer he was approached by Pepperdine and Irvine.
“I was like, Really, you guys want me to play?” he said
It was at UC Irvine that Smith began to really shine. He honed his skill and his confidence grew.
The Olympian gives credit to his coach John Speraw – now the assistant coach of Team USA – who he says always had faith in him.
Smith never refers to being deaf as a handicap; he just says he always knew he was “unique.”
He doesn’t want all this attention about his being deaf, however he recognizes that it is also a “privilege” and “opportunity” to inspire others.
“I would hope that they would be able to dream bigger and be able to find the confidence and the courage to chase their dreams,” he said.