David Smith’s hearing disability may limit him somewhat, but it hasn’t stopped him from becoming a repeat Olympian. David is part of the USA men’s volleyball squad that earned a trip to two Olympics.
A native of California, David has worn hearing aids since age three, but he says that didn’t keep him from pursuing all types of sports since childhood. Early in high school, he picked up volleyball as an off-season sport from soccer and found himself enjoying the different sport. He was recruited to the University of California, Irvine to play volleyball where he continued to improve and the team found success. He thought he’d reached the pinnacle of his career.
“We ended up winning a national title and I took a year off. I didn’t think I wanted to play volleyball anymore, and I was working on my engineering degree,” he says, “but I missed the game too much, so I decided to give it a shot and keep going.”
David and his wife moved to Germany where he plays professionally, spending the fall and winter overseas and returning to America to train with the US team in Anaheim, California. He was part of the US team that won a bronze medal at the World University Games in Bangkok, Thailand, and he toured Brazil with an American group for goodwill matches. He also played twice on the World League team.
Dreaming of a spot on the Olympic team, David kicked it in gear at the World League games, starting several matches and finishing with 67 points (kills + blocks + service aces). That performance earned him a ticket to London and a new adventure.
“It hasn’t been too overwhelming yet, but there are so many new experiences,” David said during the Games in 2012. “The opening ceremony was pretty awesome and well organized. It was amazing to see a packed stadium and hear everyone cheering.”
David’s hearing loss is a reminder of his dependence on God and the need to rely on Him for even daily sustenance. Though he was raised by Christian parents and was involved in the church as a young man, the distractions of an active sports schedule loomed.
“It was a true faith, but I was always struggling with how to apply that to my life. I had a lot of distractions. For me, sports was the biggest rival with God,” he says. “Growing up, I didn’t understand that God made sports for me for a reason, not as a rival with Him, but something I could use to glorify Him.”
When he entered college, David says he found some strong mentors who encouraged him and helped him grow in his faith. One friend in particular was helpful in opening David’s eyes to the way sport could be used to worship God, not as a separate compartment of life.
“That was a big step for me. My life outside of volleyball is not very big; it’s what I train for and how I structure my day. My life was volleyball,” he recalls.
“My friend told me that I didn’t need to check Christ at the door; He wants to be in there with me.He created me to be a volleyball player so He can play with me and give me confidence and peace and inspiration.”
That shift in thinking has brought David loads of peace in a stressful career where standards are high and the competition can be stiff. The joy and peace he exhibits on the floor are, in his eyes, the most important witness he can bring to teammates and opponents.
“It’s been a big thing for me to understand that my joy and my peace do not revolve around my performance or how I do compared to other people. My joy comes from the fact that I am playing a game I love and that He created me to play,” he says.“My attitude toward my teammates is not reflective of how we’re doing. My role has been to be encouraging and upbeat; it’s a tense environment out there, and guys want to perform and be the best.”
David says while he doesn’t put much thought into his hearing loss, the Olympics have magnified the disability in a good way. He’s received emails or messages from others that he’s an inspiration to those with hearing loss of all ages. He sees it as one more opportunity to glorify God and point to the ability to reach one’s goals despite setbacks, all possible through faith in Christ.
For now, David is focusing on helping his team succeed. But he knows the platform of sports is part of God’s plan for his life.
“My everyday life is volleyball: that’s my job, my vocation, what I’ve been called to do, the ministry I’ve been set in,” he says. “It’s been challenging to ask myself if I’m seeing love and patience in my life and if I’m showing those to my teammates. This is a mission field that I’m stomping all over if I don’t take care of those opportunities that I have right now.”
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