Sam Smith didn’t want to serve as an inspiration to others.
It just happened that way, as the Lee’s Summit West High School swimmer – who is battling cancer – made an impact on the Blue Springs South swimming team that will last a lifetime.
Smith suffered a leg injury when he was playing football in eighth grade, and the surgery revealed that he had cancer. His left leg was amputated mid-femur and replaced by a titanium rod and knee.
“He wanted to stay active and be a part of a team, but he could no longer play football,” said Colleen Gibler, the West swim coach, “so we came out for the swim team. I’d coached Sam’s older brother, and I volunteered to work with him.”
Through hours of hard work and determination, Smith earned a junior varsity conference medal as a freshman and this year is part of the varsity swim team.
“We swam against Sam and couldn’t believe what we saw,” said South senior captain Jack Pluenneke, who helped organize an amazing array of gifts for Smith and his family. “When he swam, we all got around the pool and started cheering for him. The kid is amazing – he’s our hero.”
When Pluenneke, Jaguars head coach Errich Oberlander and assistant coach Andrew Enlow found out three weeks ago Smith’s cancer had returned, they went into action.
“I talked to Errich and Andrew and the team and we decided to get some donations,” Pluenneke said as the South swim waited to surprise Smith Friday afternoon at the Lee’s Summit Aquatic Center.
“I was hoping we’d get $50 and some gift cards. We got a little bit more.”
That might be the understatement of the decade as the South swim team, along with the Staley and Blue Springs high school swim teams, presented Sam with tickets and sideline passes to a Kansas City Chiefs game, floor seats for a University of Missouri basketball game, more than $1,000 in gift cards and cash and a car.
That’s right, a car.
“I don’t believe all that happened the past two, two-and-a-half weeks,” Oberlander said as he waited for Smith along with his swimmers. “The moms won’t say a thing about this, but they did most of the work.
“You know how some coaches complain about their parents? I have the best parents in the world. The moms on this team are unbelievable.”
The moms and swimmers met at a fast food restaurant in Lee’s Summit and car-pooled to the Aquatic Center, where they were supposed to surprise Smith at 3 p.m.
Because his appointment and check-up at Children’s Mercy Hospital ran long, he didn’t arrive until a few minutes past 4 p.m.
When he opened the door to the center, he sported a look that was worth a million dollars – part joy and part total shock.
As the South and West swimmers chanted his name, Pluenneke and his teammates presented Smith with a basket overflowing with gifts.
Gibler attempted to thank the South swimmers, but her tears wiped out her words and she simply gave long, heartfelt hugs.
“This is so cool,” Pluenneke said.
When he finally realized what was happening, 15-year-old Sam thanked the South swimmers.
“I can’t put into words what this means to me and my family,” he said, not even aware he was about to receive a car, which he could drive to practice when he turned 16. “We’ve been through a lot. And something like this helps my family and me so much.”
The tears flowed and the chanted started and got stronger and stronger: “Superman Sam! Superman Sam! SUPERMAN SAM!”
The moms snapped photos, the swimmers from both teams mobbed Sam and Oberlander and Enlow just stood near the center’s exit and smiled.
Donations can still be made to the website, supermansam.com, set up to help Sam and his family.