Olympic athletes continuously stress that the route to the Games is a family journey. To reach Olympic levels, it takes decades of training which means parents must drive to countless practices, watch innumerable games and tend to physical and emotional injuries.
Team USA volleyball player David Smith, who is deaf, says he never would have reached the London Games without his family.
“They’ve been my biggest support system my entire life,” he said.
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“I always knew I was different. I knew was unique. But my parents made sure I was in class with the average kids and played sports with every other kid.”
At their Santa Clarita home, Smith’s parents proudly share the boxes of memories: photos, newspaper clippings, medals and trophies. All these milestones are part of his somewhat unexpected journey to London.
David admits: “It’s still kind of sinking in.”
Nancy and Rick Smith always had high expectations for their son, whether he was deaf or not.
“As with any child, you just want them to reach their potential,” Nancy said.
Smith’s father, Rick, says combine his son’s height and natural athleticism and “you get volleyball.”
David had raw talent, but didn’t begin to excel until he attended UC Irvine.
“I know my college coach definitely had a lot of confidence in me,” he said.
That coach, John Speraw, is now the assistant coach for Team USA.
When asked by if Rick Smith ever imagined he had an Olympian living under his roof, he chuckles and says, “Never. I knew he was good, I didn’t know he was that good.”
Smith’s mother says no matter what she’s a proud parent.
“We’ve been proud of him all along even if he had not made it to the Olympics,” she said.
Smith’s wife Kelli – who has been watching Smith compete since college, where she a track and field athlete – says she’s confident that her husband is ready for the Olympic Games.
“I think he’s a competitor. I always say that he’s one of those players that always rises above to the occasion,” she said. “The more intense the competition, the more important the competition, the better David does.”
The couple has been married for four years and recently welcomed a baby boy. Kelli says the pair is still learning and changing in the way they communicate.
“I think in any marriage communication is the number one thing you have to work on and for us it’s just that much more,” she said.
Kelli has happily become David’s biggest fan, and source of support. She beams when she talks of David Olympic experience. She says his heart is in the right place.
“He really cares. He really loves the sport. He hasn’t played a sport to be famous or to make money. He plays because he loves what he’s doing,” she said.
And like Smith’s parents, Kelli sees David’s deafness not as a deficiency but just a part of who he is.
“I don’t think he would be the exact same person if he didn’t have this challenge in his life. So, it makes him more sensitive and aware of other things because he’s missing that one sense,” she said.
“If I could say, Oh, he can have perfect hearing tomorrow, I don’t know if I would change that because that would make him a whole different person.”