Mind over matter

Edison High freshman Thomas Smith helped his swimming club's relay team set a National Age Group record in December, just two weeks after he learned he had cancer.

January 25, 2012|By Mike Sciacca
  • Thomas Smith
Thomas Smith (Robin Smith )

Adversity seems to bring out the best in Thomas Smith. So does getting a little help from his friends.

Smith, a freshman at Edison High, is a member of the Irvine Aquazots Swim Club boys' 13-14 team that last month set a National Age Group record in the 400-yard medley relay. The four, each 14 years old, set the record in the 13-14 boys' division with a time of 3 minutes, 29.45 seconds at the 2011 Speedo Championship Series California/Nevada Winter Sectional, hosted by Golden West Swim Club at the Golden West College pool

Smith started the team's bid by turning in a time of 51.24 seconds in the backstroke. Tyler Lin followed with a 57.87 in the breaststroke, Justin Hanson was next with a 52.42 in the butterfly and Matthew Wong secured the record by going 47.92 in the freestyle.

The previous record in the event was set in 2009.


"We all had a single goal in mind during this past summer, and that was to set the record in this event," Smith said. "Each day, six days a week, we worked hard to achieve this goal. The time we spent together at swim practice really developed our relationships, both in and out of the pool.

"Tyler, Justin and Matthew are great guys. I really think the journey toward accomplishing what we did is more important than those 3 1/2 minutes in the pool that day."

What is stunning about Smith's accomplishments is that they came within a month of receiving some potentially devastating news.

On Nov. 30, Smith noticed a "large lump" on his left distal femur (knee). An X-ray confirmed he had a 2.1 centimeter bone tumor. He had an MRI on Dec. 2 to determine if the cancer was malignant. A malignant diagnosis would have required surgery to remove "part of his leg, up to his thigh area," his father, Brad Smith, said.

"The MRI showed that I did have bone cancer (distal femur) but right now, it's not harmful or malignant so I don't have to have any surgery," Thomas Smith said. "That was a huge relief."

Fifteen days after visiting the doctor and going to radiation appointments, Smith, Lin, Hanson and Wong smashed the national record in the boys' 13-14 400 medley relay.

"To go from having to possibly have my leg cut off, to swimming and setting the record, really is unreal," Smith said. "Once I got the 'green light' from my doctors, my thoughts immediately went to swimming. It was like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders. This (400) relay record had been a goal of mine, of all of us, and we were determined."

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