ATLANTA – Anthony Smith, a member of the LeMoyne-Owen men's golf team isn't your typical student-athlete. Although he has a warm and welcoming spirit, Smith is a competitor who shines on the golf course despite fighting for his life off of it.
On the outside, Smith appears to be as healthy as any other young man in his 20s. He's tall with chiseled shoulders and a smile that can light up an entire room. But beneath that lies a sickle cell gene, which one in 12 African-Americans carry.
Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a serious, inherited condition affecting the blood and various organs in the body. It affects the red blood cells, causing episodes of sickling, which produce episodes of pain and other symptoms. In between episodes of sickling, people with SCD are normally well. Long-term complications can occur. Certain conditions can trigger sickling, such as cold, infection, lack of fluid in the body or low oxygen.
Smith's diagnosis began to take a toll on him in high school when his doctor told him that it wasn't a good idea to continue playing basketball because of his disease.
"It was draining my body a lot," Smith explained. "I like being an athlete so I had to find something else to do. At that time, I was like why not golf? Golf looks like an easy sport. Anybody can play golf. I talked to the golf coach at Stephenson High School and he showed me the game."
Smith quickly learned that golf wasn't as easy as he pictured. He was awful and hated everything about it.
"I told my coach I wasn't coming back out there," said Smith. "But as I sat at home doing nothing, I realized that I couldn't just give up. So I got back out there and started practicing on my own. I called the golf coach a month later to tell him that I wanted to learn the sport."
Patience and persistence gradually began to pay off for Smith. He played for two seasons at Stephenson before moving to Mississippi. Unfortunately for Smith there weren't any golf teams in the area but he continued to play when he could until he graduated.
A sport that he initially despised awarded him a scholarship to Alcorn State University. However, life threw another curve ball at Smith. After two years on the ASU men's golf team, Smith's head coach Tom Matthews passed away in 2012. Alcorn State dropped the golf program the following year and Smith's future seemed unclear until he got a phone call that would direct his course back onto golf course.
After taking a year off from school, Smith received a call from LeMoyne-Owen head coach Don Holmes, asking Smith to tryout for the team. Smith impressed and became a member of the team.
It looked as if things were getting better for Smith. He was back in school and enjoying playing golf. In his first season at LeMoyne-Owen, he played in every tournament and saw his self improving.
"I was loving it," stated Smith. "Then I got sick. My blood count dropped tremendously. I could barely move my legs. The pain was so excruciating that after they admitted me into the hospital I had to get blood transfusions. It was three days before the 2015 SIAC championship. I wasn't supposed to be out of the hospital but I had a talk with my doctor and told him that I wasn't the type of person to sit in the hospital. I felt decent enough to go play. The doctor checked everything and cleared me.
I enjoyed the tournament and being around people that love golf. I played ok and got a chance to talk with other student-athletes around the conference. It's all love between us. Because golf is our common ground, it gives us an opportunity to talk about other things."
Smith's determination and competitiveness are just a few attributes that make him a special individual. No matter what life brings his way, he stands tall and faces the battles head on.
After starting the 2015-16 season off strong and lowering his scores on a consistent basis, the winter season kicked in and his sickle cell became more intense. For most people diagnosed with sickle cell, the winter months can pose a major health challenge. In Smith's case, if the weather gets too cold or too hot it's hard for his body to move. He begins to lose oxygen which causes the sickle cell "crisis" or pain. His immune system weakens and he has to monitor his activities. He can't just go outside freely and has to remain indoors to take care of his body.
"It got really bad," Smith explained. "I couldn't practice for three months. The first time I touched the golf course was at our next tournament in the spring. I wasn't going to give up. I went back to practicing after that tournament. A lot of people don't understand what sickle cell is. It's a blood disease so when it acts up there is nothing I can do about it. I just have to let it take its course and endure the pain. I don't find it as an issue anymore because I know what I'm capable of. I believe I can accomplish whatever it is that I want to accomplish if I put my mind to it."
After Smith graduates in December with a degree in information technology he plans on pursuing a career at an animal reserve. Smith also wants to start an organization to help mentor young kids.
"I love animals but I can't be around animals yet," said Smith. "My doctor and I are working on getting my immune system high enough so that I can go work with animals. I love studying animals and history. I like learning new things. I enjoy encouraging and talking to people. If I can do it, you can do it. Your body is way better than mine. I try to build up other people's morale so that they can better than themselves; especially in the black community where there is a lot of negativity and not enough encouragement."
At the age of 23, Smith has gained wisdom beyond his years. His advice to anyone dealing with the struggles of life or just simply having a bad day remains the same.
"Never give up," Smith said. "You have to take care of business. If you know you need to take care of your body, that's taking care of business. If you know you need to study more to get a better grade, that's taking care of business. If you need to workout, that's taking care of business. Find something that will make you happy or something that will better yourself."