Ben Smith was born without a complete hand and fingers, but he hasn’t let it impact his life. Learning to tie shoes is challenging for any youngster, but it was the first major test of Smith’s life, and there were many more to come. Smith wore a prosthetic for a time, but he’s mostly found solutions by doing things differently.
“My unique hand required me to create ways to do ordinary tasks,” he said.
A look at his resume gives no hint at the challenges he’s had to overcome. Smith is an active athlete who participated in several school sports and served as a football team captain. He is an avid snowboarder who placed second at nationals. He’s even coached weightlifting and instructed snowboarding.
“Snowboarding is a passion of mine that I love more than anything,” he said. “A lot of the passion I have was because of the good instructors I’ve had, and I wanted to give back.”
Even when he was young, Smith was determined to pursue any opportunity he could. He began to play baseball when he was 6, and he developed a personal technique for catching and throwing. Slower than everyone at first, he eventually became as fast as the rest of the team.
Smith continued with sports while he pursued other interests, including learning to play the trombone so he could be in a band. He took leadership classes and became active with the Associated Student Body. He also volunteered for many community service activities.
“I have rarely seen Ben without a smile on his face and an optimistic attitude for his life,” Peninsula High School Athletic Director Philip Willenbrock said.
Smith has maintained a near-perfect grade-point average while he’s taken challenging classes, including four advanced-placement and honors courses.
Smith said the challenging academic work motivated him to push himself.
“It means a lot to me that I’ve been able to overcome a lot of things,” Smith said. “I was always different. Being able to take my disability and push myself to the next level above and beyond has made me a stronger person.”
Inspired by his personal experience, Smith plans to study biomedical engineering in college so he can build prosthetics. He plans to continue sports in college, either with javelin or competitive snowboarding.
“The work ethic of this young man is well above average, and he is very passionate and driven to succeed,” Willenbrock said. “He is an energetic, ethical individual who is able to maintain a significant level of balance in his life while not sacrificing individuality.”
Category: Overcoming adversity
Education: Senior, Peninsula High School
Parents: Amie and Ed Smith
Activities/achievements: Football team captain; baseball; track and field, third at 3A state meet in javelin; competitive snowboarding, second at nationals; snowboarding instructor; ASB class senator; volunteer for cancer fundraiser; YMCA camp counseling; state Department of Ecology cleanup; weightlifting coach; four AP honors classes.
Favorite teacher: Patrick Gillis. “He is truly compassionate toward his students and teaches so everybody can learn the material.”
Best thing about high school: The environment allows everyone to be themselves. “The network of relationships makes everyone feel connected, allowing exceptional learning and self-expression.