Marchello Smith has come a long way. When Smith first found Special Olympics at the age of 13, he was an admittedly “shrimpy” kid whose shyness and uncertainty had kept him off the field of play his entire life.
But as he bravely stepped up to the starting line for the 100 m race, he had one thing in mind.
“I don’t like to lose!” laughs Smith. “I definitely don’t like to lose. There were a lot of other much bigger kids lined up with me and I didn’t know if I could beat them. But I sure was going to give it my best try.”
When the starter’s pistol fired, Smith took off like a shot and never looked back, winning the race and catching the eye of Special Olympics Wake County coaches. He quickly went on to compete in basketball, softball and soccer.
“I loved Special Olympics right away. I was teased a lot as a kid and really loved the acceptance and support my teammates and coaches offered. They kept me out of trouble and became part of my family.”
But Smith stepped away from his Special Olympics family during a tough time for his biological family. The 2010 passing of his maternal grandmother, Eleanora, shook him to his core.
“She was everything to me: mom, dad, coach. She was my hero. And when she passed away, I wasn’t really sure what to do without her.”
But once again, Smith found source of inspiration, this time in his wife Chasity.
“She’s the most important person in the world to me,” Smith explains. “Meeting her helped me pick my life back up again.”
And did he ever pick things up again. In 2014, Smith was a member of Team North Carolina at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey. Everything about the trip, from his first plane ride to his soccer team going undefeated and winning the gold medal, was the thrill of a lifetime for the then 31-year-old Smith.
He took the responsibility of representing North Carolina and his fellow athletes in New Jersey seriously, something that continues every time Smith steps onto the field of play.
“I feel like I’m Kobe (Bryant) or MJ (Michael Jordan) sometimes. I like to show other people that Wake County is a good team and that Special Olympics athletes are real athletes.”
A long and very successful career came upon yet another milestone in November 2016 as Smith was named the 2016 Special Olympics North Carolina Athlete of the Year, an honor that surprised and moved him to tears.
“It’s an honor just to be here and compete with Special Olympics, but to have others look to me as a leader, that means so much to me. I didn’t think I deserved to be singled out from all the other athletes, but I’m going to do my best to earn it,” said Smith.
And when asked how his grandmother would have viewed that moment?
“She probably would have pinched my jaw and told me ‘baby, I’m proud of you,’” laughed Smith.
From the 13-year-old “shrimpy” kid who nervously stood at that starting line to the 34-year-old decorated athlete who confidently stood and accepted his Athlete of the Year award, Marchello Smith has come a long way.