For more than five years, an army of friends, family and swimmers stood with Sam Smith during his courageous battle with cancer.
The battle ended April 16 – Easter Sunday – when Smith, 19, died surrounded by many of those same friends and family. And while his fight may be over, the outpouring of love and support for the former Lee’s Summit West swimmer known as “Superman Sam” is nowhere near finished.
“The swim community is rallying around him once again because he was so well loved,” said Lee’s Summit West swim coach Colleen Gibler. “A reason the swim community is so tight is because of the Smith family. A lot of people have been contacting us to see how they can help.”
It’s been that way since February 2012, when as an eighth-grader Smith was diagnosed with osteosarcoma – a cancer of the bone which usually develops in rapidly growing teenagers. He was declared cancer-free after chemotherapy and surgery in June 2013 and joined West’s swim team, but by September it had returned and spread to his lungs.
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Smith kept swimming despite more chemo and surgery. He even competed in some meets that season, earning the admiration of teammates and competitors alike. His West teammates, along with Blue Springs South’s swim team, raised thousands of dollars in cash and gift cards to help Smith and his family deal with his treatment and medical bills. They even got a local auto dealer to donate a badly needed second car.
Last fall, Smith’s family was selected as one of the recipients for the money raised from West’s annual Dig for the Cure volleyball game.
“It’s kind of weird,” Smith said in a 2013 interview. “No one sees themselves as inspiring others or being someone else’s hero. People embrace me and say I’m really inspirational to them.”
Smith graduated from West last spring, and he continued to inspire support throughout his long battle. Over the years he would be declared cancer free only to have more tumors discovered and removed from his lungs. Around last Christmas, they had to remove a lung. In March, a large and rapidly growing tumor appeared in his trachea.
“They told him it would be weeks, maybe months,” Gibler said.
Gibler set up a page on the SignUpGenius website to organize volunteers and raise supplies to help Smith’s family with the visitation and funeral. It filled up in less than a day. A GoFundMe page raised more than $14,000 in its first two days.
West’s swimmers plan to build a memorial garden where Smith lived. They’ll also help out with chores around the home that were neglected during Smith’s fight and the death of his father, Tony, from a heart attack last August.
Superman Sam’s army isn’t going away anytime soon.
“He’s a special dude, and I think all of us are closer because of him,” Gibler said.
A visitation for Smith is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. Friday at the Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City. A memorial service will be held 3 p.m. Saturday at the church.