Cancer survivor turns swimming conquerer

28 June 2016

18 year old Sam Smoothy is a young man who knows his fair share about challenges. As a four year old he was diagnosed with lymphoblastic lymphoma, a type of cancer that was attacking his bones. Sam spent two and a half years in Princess Margaret Hospital, where he was treated with chemotherapy and steroids.

When Sam was six doctors discussed with his parents the possibility of amputating his right leg at the upper thigh, with the family going through all the scenarios around how his life would change once he was living with a prosthetic limb. However, despite the discussions the surgery never went ahead and eventually, at the age of eight, Sam was officially cleared of any cancer and has been in remission ever since.

Sam says the time spent in hospital, coupled with the steroid treatment, caused him to put on quite a lot of weight. “My dad decided to put me in a lot of sports to try and help me lose some of the weight and learn the skills I’d missed out on while I spent so much time in hospital. We tried rugby, soccer, a lot of other things but none of those really gelled with me. My dad used to be in the Commonwealth team so he decided to see if swimming might be a good sport for me and I really enjoyed it.”

Swimming was a pastime but not yet a passion for Sam, until, at the age of 16, he was invited to join the Busselton Jetty Swim. With that swimming challenge under his belt and under the guidance of his coach, open water swimming legend Shelley Taylor-Smith, Sam started taking on more and more long distance challenges. He took on the Rottnest Channel Swim, then joined his father Martin in a duo to complete the English Channel Swim.

Since then he’s competed in a number of open water swimming events across Australia and, next month, he’s again teaming up with his dad to complete a 36 kilometre marathon race from the Isle of Capri to Naples in Italy.

Apart from training for his own swimming events, Sam is also a swim instructor at The Swim School in Merriwa, one of Royal Life Saving Society WA’s endorsed swim schools. Sam says “My coach Shelley encouraged me to look at qualifying as a swim instructor, because I tend to get along quite well with the little kids at the pool. So I completed my training and now I teach children right across the levels. The most rewarding thing is seeing the kids obtain that level of skill to allow them to have fun in the water and enjoy swimming not just as a competitive sport but as a great leisure activity

“So many of the kids come with different enthusiasm levels and from different backgrounds and I enjoy being able to impart my experience with them and share how swimming has been such a positive thing in my life. It’s extremely important that all children in WA learn to swim and it’s one of the most important skills we can teach children in a place like Australia.”

Next year four members of Sam’s family are taking on the world’s most dangerous lake, Lake Victoria in Uganda, in a fundraising swim for The Uganda Project. The lake is notorious and claims about 5,000 lives every year, partly due to the changeable weather and the dilapidated condition of the boats used by fishermen on the lake, but largely due to the fact that so many people in the region simply don’t know how to swim!

Sam and his family are hoping to become the first people to ever swim across the lake, which is 240 kilometres long. If you’d like to support them in their fundraising efforts head to The Uganda Project.