By Johnny Sanders, Sports Editor
MOODY – In the hustle and bustle of the fantastic season that the Moody football team is experienced this year, there was a young man who runs track for the Blue Devils who signed to run at the University of Alabama recently and the story behind it is rather impressive.
Talan Smith, who has Cerebral Palsy and runs for the Moody Track team as a para track star, and his father drove to Tuscaloosa just to “see what would happen.” Smith recalls, “We were standing outside of the adaptive athletic facility and we can’t get in. So, my dad calls a lady who knows the head coach and next thing we know, he calls the head coach and he brings us in and we start talking. Alabama has only been focused on wheel chair athletes for the past year. We start talking and the director comes in and it turns out they were about to hire a sprints coach and it fell into place. They told me I have a spot on the team next year if I wanted to come there. It was perfect timing. I got to tour the facilities and everything and it was great.”
On the decision to just drive down one day, Smith said, “I didn’t have many opportunities leading into this so we were just like, ‘let’s drive up and see what we can do.’ Dad knew this was what I wanted to do and I wanted to further this past high school. We just drove up there and it was something only God could put together. It was all God and I give all glory to God. There was nothing I could do to make that happen. It was all Him.”
The state of Alabama is one of the only states in the country that has a para-ambulatory division in track. I was able to run in that division. Often times Smith was the only one on the track. A lot of the time, it was just him running against time. Smith had to learn quite a bit about this largely unknown sport. “I had to learn throughout the season the qualifications for Paralympics and the times needed to meet for Team USA and I strove for that and worked on that. I jumped in halfway through the season and it was new. I was never a fan of running before joining tack and I fell in love with it very quick. I saw the potential in it. I realized this was something that I could do professionally for a career.”
Talan’s coach, Michael Graben, said the following about Smith, “Moody High School is lucky to have someone like Talan as one of its students. Talan is one of the hardest workers I have ever coached. He is a leader that is needed in the classroom and on the field and in the community. He attacks every challenge refusing to not be successful. He really stands out as someone any coach would want to have.”
Moody strength and conditioning coach Cam Willis, who has helped train Talan, said the following of the Bama signee, “Most people hate fighting through adversity but Talan thrives off of it. One of the hardest working kids I’ve been around since I came to Moody. H has an obvious disability but he does not use it as a crutch and gives you everything he’s got. Most of the time I just sit back and watch him find a way to get the job done and it is kind of neat to just watch. The kid has a relentless pursuit and deserves everything he gets. He will get to Bama and crush it and it will not surprise me one bit. He will make everyone around him better. I know that because he makes everyone here better.”
“Talan is a dedicated and hard-working student-athlete, who always looks to improve.” says Moody Principal Dr. Chris Walters. “He wants to make Moody High School a better place, and he is one of the first students to volunteer for clubs like the 411 Network. But what allows Talan to stand out is his desire to not only push himself to be better, but help improve para sports. He has grown into a student leader that continues to make Moody High School a better place.”
Talan is about one second “and some change” away from the 400 meter emerging mark for Team USA. “My year-one goal is to set that emerging mark. That will put me on Team USA’s development team and they will begin to send me places to train. Like a JV team. By the time I’m out, I want to be a Paralympian and compete on the biggest stage.”
Talan’s goals are not just for himself. He wants to make Paralympics more know. “It’s funny because I’ve had the thought that this is not a big sport. It’s not because it doesn’t get advertised. There was just a big event in Hoover. Nationals. And it was free, no paid parking, 400 athletes from all over the country. They worked their tails off to get there. It should be more publicized. In track, the crowd helps you. You feed off of it. You want to run faster. In adaptive sports, we don’t have that crowd and we wish we did. We work just as hard as anyone else. Just because we are disabled, we shouldn’t be looked at differently. My hope in the future is that I can be part of growing this sport and getting it more publicity and eventually help grow it to a larger stage.”
What better way to accomplish that than by signing with one of the most recognizable universities in the entire nation, the Alabama Crimson Tide?