TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

May 16, 2013

No slowing down


The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — By Chris Parsons / Staff Writer

Those who know outgoing Corbin High School freshman Alex “Dub” Smith will tell you that, despite being born with a disability, he's your average run-of-the-mill American teenager.

With his can-do attitude and larger-than-average frame (about 6 feet tall and a little over 200 pounds), rising above life's troubles has never been too hard for ‘Dub’ (as his friends and pretty much anyone who knows him refer to him).

Despite his typical teenage looks and whether he'll admit it or not, Dub is anything but normal, but that’s only because he's the kind of kid who doesn’t like labels.

“I've never really thought of this (as he raises his left hand) as a disability,” Dub admits. “I've always done anything I've wanted to do because I don't really know to do any different.

“No one ever labeled me as different because I was always doing the things everyone else did,” he added. “If you're never told that you're different and you're treated like everyone else, you're not any different than anyone.”

A little more than 15 years ago, Dub was born with no fingers on his left hand, a condition that his mother, Heather Smith, said went undetected during pregnancy, despite several ultrasounds. She said that while the news was hard to take and she immediately had concerns about the way her son would have to go through life, the decision that would ultimately shape Dub's personality was made.

“We did not know of his condition until he was born,” Heather Smith said. “I had several ultrasounds during the pregnancy, but it wasn’t noticed that he didn’t have fingers on his left hand.

“At first, we were devastated, only thinking that there were going to be so many things that Alex would not be able to do,” she added. “However, his father and I decided very early on that we would not treat Alex any different than his older brother Austin. We didn’t want him to think he was disabled or that there was ever anything that he could not do, or at least attempt to do.”

When Dub was 2 years old, his parents were referred by his pediatrician to the Shriners Hospital in Lexington to see if there was anything that could be done to make the quality of life better for him. It was during their first visit to Shriners when they met the doctor who would change Dub’s life.

“His name is Dr. Amit Gupta, and he said that he could simply take the second toe from each of Alex’s feet and place them on his left hand,  making him two fingers,” Heather Smith said. “So in 2001, shortly after Alex turned three, he underwent the first surgery and shortly after, the second.

“He (Dub) did so well, that he actually played his first season of Wee-ball in the summer of 2001 in between the two surgeries,” she added. “And from that moment on, there has been no looking back.”

The thing about Dub is that being normal has nothing — yet everything — to do with the condition he was born with and the way he has handled it. He said he's never met a challenge he wouldn't at least try, and he says that characteristic can be credited to the way he was treated early on in his life.

It's that determination that sets Dub apart, yet makes him just like every other teenager.

“I was treated just like my siblings when I was younger, so there really wasn't any favoritism to let me know I was different,” he added. “If you're never told you're different, you really aren't any different than anybody else because it's really a judgment thing.

“Everyone has challenges they have to handle in life,” he added. “You just have to try and do the things you're faced with.”

As a freshman at Corbin High School this past school year, Dub was a member of the freshman boys basketball team. He said he loves playing basketball, watching basketball and talking about basketball. Dub also enjoys playing video games and spending time with his friends and his older brother Austin, a senior at Corbin High School.

Dub has played baseball, football, basketball, computer games, video games and literally everything else that any other kid his age does without a problem. The one thing Dub struggled with growing up was learning to tie his shoes, but he eventually accomplished that task with a little help and determination.

“The only thing that we have ever struggled with was teaching Alex how to tie his shoes, but my fiance worked with Alex and found a way to teach him how to get it done,” Heather Smith said. “Even with learning that, I have never heard the words 'I can’t' come out of Alex’s mouth.”

Dub will continue to live his average teenage life as summer approaches, meeting each new challenge just as he has during the course of his 15 years of life. He said the only time he feels challenged these days is when one of his friends tells him he can't do something in an almost daring manner. He said he knows it's done mostly because they want to see his reaction and the fact that they usually know what comes next.

“My friends really don't even notice anything different about me now because my hand has always been this way. It really never comes up unless they're messing with me,” Dub said. “They’ll tell me I can't do something just because they know that I'll prove them wrong or at least try to.”

So usually, in a laid-back manner, Dub responds to a challenge just to prove his friends or any other detractors wrong by doing what he’s been doing his whole life — just being Dub.

As any proud mother would, Heather Smith said she's proud of Dub and the way he approaches life and said she hopes her son's determination can somehow affect other individuals who have dealt with some sort of disability.

“In this day and time, I think it is so nice to hear about kids like Alex, who don’t let things like this stop them from achieving their dreams or give them an all-access pass for a pity party,” Heather said. “I just think that other kids who may have challenges to overcome may enjoy hearing about Alex’s story.

“Hopefully he can inspire at least one person to rise above whatever disability they’re dealing with and live a normal life,” she added.