How rehab at a special facility for combat veterans was crucial to Alex Smith’s recovery

27 May 2021

Alex Smith is hoping to write another chapter to his amazing comeback story on Saturday when Washington faces Tampa Bay in a playoff game.

His journey to this point has been a roller coaster.

But a turning point in his rehab came in February 2019 when Smith received clearance from the office of the secretary of defense to get a medical consultation from the military at the Center for the Intrepid, a rehabilitation facility for combat veterans in San Antonio.

Smith was able to meet with several doctors and physical therapists while at the facility.

“His injury mimics a lot of what we see,” said Dr. Matthew Schmitz, who is the chair of orthopedics. “The way that we supplement that training is through cases like Alex’s where we are able to take care of patients in a similar setting that we see in war time trauma.”

Scott Abraham’s interview with Matthew Schmitz

During that visit, Smith actually threw a football for the first time since his gruesome injury in November 2018. He also bonded with several of the combat veterans.

“He came down here and was rehabbing and going through our return to run program alongside some of our wounded warriors,” Dr. Schmitz said. “Having spoken to a number of them, what they gained from that experience was incredible. It was this great co-relationship where they fed off of each other. If you were going to rehab or work out next to a professional athlete that would make you step your game up a little bit so we have seen the benefit from our patients down here as well.”

Smith’s trip to San Antonio probably would not have been possible without the help of Washington team doctor, Dr. Robin West.

She got in touch with a friend, Johnny Owens, a physical therapist, who used to be the chief of human performance optimization at the Center for the Intrepid.

Owens traveled to Washington in February 2019 for a military conference. On that trip, he spent time with the Smith family at their home for a couple of days. This is when Owens shared his experiences at the Center for the Intrepid. Smith was intrigued and the rest, as they say, is history.

“He definitely has this drive to him,” Owens said. “Alex is kind of like those military guys we work with if we said run through a wall he would say ‘Yes, sir’ and go do it. “

Scott Abraham’s interview with Johnny Owens

Owens is a self-described “proud Texan.” He loves his Dallas Cowboys, but as he told ABC7 sports anchor Scott Abraham, it’s getting harder and harder to be a fan of the team.

“I was talking to my Dad the other day and said I have to let you go, I have to watch the Washington Football Team play,” Owens said. “I tell everyone I’m an Alex Smith fan. I think his story, we need more good stories in the season that we are in with everything going on and it’s just super fun to watch.”

Both Owens and Dr. Schmitz have been glued to the television whenever Smith is playing. They are hooked and are simply amazed at his remarkable return to the field.

“I have a funny story, that very first game that he came back and they kept showing his wife Elizabeth in the stands with that elation, but also that apprehension,” Dr. Schmitz said. “Anyone that has been involved with his care has had that same feeling where we are so proud and so happy for him but you still have that bit of nervousness in you because you have seen what he’s been through.”

“Usually my phone is blowing up with people who are involved with his story as well,” Owens said. “We’re all like “Oh my gosh, did you see that play? And oh my gosh he got tackled. He’s ok,” so we’re all kind of sweating it and also cheering at the same time so yeah I’m loving it.”

Every day, Smith is proving anything his possible. After 17 surgeries, enduring a life-threatening serious infection, and considering the possibility of amputation, he is once again a starting quarterback in the NFL. But just not any, starting quarterback. A starting quarterback in a playoff game.