He was known as The Strength Coach, but Greg Smith wasn't a physical trainer. His strength came from within and from the enjoyment of sports. Born with muscular dystrophy, he wasn't expected to live beyond his teen years. He surpassed that mark and more, living to age 52. Gregory Allen Smith of Ocean Springs died June 2 at Ocean Springs Hospital.
"I've never considered myself a disabled person," he said in a Sun Herald interview in October 2014. He weighed 65 pounds and used his motorized wheelchair and specially equipped van for getting around, both on the Coast and around the country, where he gave motivational speeches. He developed a syndicated radio program, "On a Roll," which was broadcast on up to 70 stations nationally and focused on disability issues.
"My dad was such an amazing person," said his daughter, Berkeley Smith of Phoenix, Ariz. "He inspired me to be more determined with my life. He came across so many obstacles as a young kid, but he chose to look past those obstacles and look at them as a blessing. He has inspired me to do more, and he taught me about hard work and motivation."
Two of the greats
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"It is ironic that Muhammad Ali and Greg died" almost on the same day, his mother, Adelia Smith, said in a statement. "Ali was the heavyweight champion of the world, the epitome of perfectly formed physique and physical power who stood up for his beliefs and promoted peace around the world. Greg Smith, on the other hand, weighed only 65 pounds, used a wheelchair and used his God-given gifts of a powerful voice and a positive attitude to change attitudes of others with disabilities, as well as those he called 'temporarily able-bodied.'"
Smith was born in Bay Springs and grew up in Downers Grove, Ill., in the Chicago area. There, he played drums in the marching band at Downers Grove South. He became a sports announcer during high school and college. Radio continued to play a big role in his life; he was host of a progam called "Cardinal Talk" from 1989 to 1992 and a research director at the radio station from which his program aired. He and his parents moved back to Ocean Springs in 2001.
A documentary about Smith's experiences, also titled "On a Roll," was broadcast on PBS as part of the "Independent Lens" series. It received the Audience Award for PBS Independent Lens and was an official selection for several festivals and events, including the Athens International Film & Video Festival, the National Association of Black Journalists and Reel Life Film Festival.
Becoming 'The Strength Coach'
Becoming The Strength Coach came about after Smith sank into depression following Hurricane Katrina.
"I was still doing my radio show, but I was depressed," he said in the 2014 interview. "When I got back home, my depression was severe. I just let the radio show go. I got sicker; I had difficulty breathing. I prayed, 'Please let me have another breath.' When I was able to get better I realized I had been wasting six years of my life. I became relentless. I wanted to help people discover, develop and deploy their inner strength."
Smith used his skills to help young athletes, too, his mother stated.
"To help high school sports players get scholarships to college, he learned how to produce highlight tapes of their high school games to presented to colleges considering signing them when they graduated," she said.
"Greg spent his life focused on what could do and not on what he could not do," she added in the statement.
Smith maintained an upbeat attitude about his life and his future.
"I'm 50," he said in the 2014 interview. "I'm supposed to be wrapping it up but feel like I have another 50 years."