Published on October 19, 2020

throwing a football

An Amazing Comeback

There was one very bright spot in the Washington Football Team’s 30-10 loss to the Rams on Sunday. Alex Smith played in his first game in 693 days.

Smith suffered a very serious injury in a game against the Houston Texans back on November 18, 2018, when he broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg. (It was 33 years to the day from the game in which Washington legend Joe Theismann suffered a similar injury in a game against the New York Giants at RFK Stadium. It ended Theismann’s career.)

In Alex Smith’s case, the injury nearly ended his life, as he fought back against infections that were so severe that at one point his physicians even discussed the prospect of amputation.  Seventeen surgeries over nine months, and then many more months of recovery and therapy, lay ahead of the veteran athlete. Somehow he came through it all and knocked down each new challenge. And somewhere along the way his focus shifted from just walking again to playing football again and returning to the NFL and the Washington Football Team.

Over the summer, Alex demonstrated his personal commitment to his goal of returning to play, as well as his commitment to be a great teammate, mentor, and inspiration to his fellow players. As he moved slowly through the drills, to the controlled play, to full practice games, it became clear that Alex Smith was not competing for a warm spot in his coaches’ hearts—but for a place on the 53-man roster of active players. In September he was named as one of the quarterbacks for the Washington Football Team. His teammates cheered, and he determined to be ready to play if given that opportunity.

Last Sunday, the opportunity came when starting quarterback Kyle Allen sustained an arm injury near the end of the first half of the game against the Los Angeles Rams. Alex Smith went in to finish the half, and then he played the entire second half—completing 17 passes for 37 yards, carrying the ball himself on a rush, and enduring the hits that come with being an NFL quarterback. Washington lost the game, 30-10. After nearly two years away from play, Alex Smith was back on the field throwing passes, and that is probably what history will remember about the game.

On Sunday, Washington will play the New York Giants. Alex Smith is slated to be on hand as the top backup, and he’ll be ready to play. If you are like me, every time he completes a pass, you’ll be up cheering. Not because he’s winning the game (although I hope they win this week), but because he’s winning at life. In the midst of a two-year death-defying journey that has been painful and difficult, Alex Smith found the personal resolve and determination to fight through it all, and in the process he gives each of us hope and the determination to strive against our own set of difficulties.

As healthcare workers, we know about the extraordinary teams of physicians, nurses, therapists, and others who helped Alex Smith achieve this extraordinary comeback. We have an inkling of the support he needed from his family and those around him. We know the importance of the personal support he received from his team and teammates. We know how advances in medical science helped make possible a return to the game, when three decades ago it would have been career-ending. And we know how it feels to be a part of a community that comes together to provide support and care in a crisis, as well as support and care through recovery and return to health.

Bravo, Alex! You inspire us.

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