The Seattle Seahawks overcame many obstacles in order to become world champions at Super Bowl 48. Despite setbacks such as, injuries to several starters throughout the season and two league suspensions of players in crucial secondary positions, the team persevered. As a result, the world was introduced to an unlikely hero in low profile linebacker, Malcolm Smith. Obstacles and setbacks, have become rather commonplace for Smith. The Seahawks Super Bowl MVP battles to maintain his health after being diagnosed with a rare disease less than five years ago.
Smith and Coach Pete Carroll actually crossed paths before either of them joined the Seahawks; Smith played football for Carroll at USC. While attending USC, the Seahawks Super Bowl MVP began the first of many battles with Achalasia, a rare disease affecting only one in 100,000 people. Achalasia is characterized by diseased muscles in the esophagus, which restrict or prevent the entrance of food into the stomach. Due to significant muscle constriction, the esophagus is unable to relax when appropriate and results in regurgitation of food while it is being consumed. In addition to regurgitation and difficulty swallowing, the disease causes chest pain; lung problems; significant weight loss; and, can eventually lead to esophageal Cancer.
Smith’s symptoms first materialized in 2009, as chest pains and later, with difficulty eating, trainers mistakenly thought it was reflux. Shortly after the Rose Bowl, USC teammates took notice and voiced their concern for Smith’s health, as he had lost 30 pounds in a relatively short period of time. The trainers and doctors were baffled. Smith tried to remedy the weight loss by forcing food down; creating a hernia in his esophagus, which required surgery to correct. Following surgery, Smith experienced a slight improvement, but he had to learn how to eat all over again to cater to his condition.
Despite his recovery and subsequent success at USC, Smith was not invited to the NFL Combine and was the 244th pick of the 2011 draft. Even after joining Seattle, he played backup to other first string players, only filling in when others were injured or unable to play. However, Smith distinguished himself with every opportunity he had on the field, eventually earning himself a starting position. Still, after successfully completing the game-winning interception of the NFC Championship (as a result of the infamous Richard Sherman tip), there was nary a mention of all but anonymous #53.
Smith considers himself a misfit, but notes that he is in good company with the rest of the team, many of whom he says play with a chip on their shoulder as a result of being rejected or overlooked prior to being recruited by Seattle. However, Smith’s situation is unique, as his struggle does not simply end with recognition for his talent and skill as an athlete, quite the contrary. Although someone who stands 6 feet tall can hardly be considered small, to remain relevant on a competitive Seattle defense, a linebacker needs to maintain his bulk. For someone who suffers from a disease affecting his food intake, maintaining weight is a constant battle. The battles MVP Malcolm Smith fights with this rare disease every day are a tribute to his successes and transcend both the Seahawks and the Super Bowl.
By Chavala Trigg