Nick Smart fondly recalls his spirited high school days, when he thrived on competition and sports were always the focal point of his attention.
Smart cherished every moment on the fields, in the gymnasium or on the ice – no matter what the sport was – but these days he's the first to admit he took those carefree days for granted.
Not any more.
"I think I have an interesting perspective and it's made me appreciate sports and my health more than other athletes might," said Smart, a sociology major at Crandall University.
"It's a cliché, but tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us and life is short," he continued. "I believe this more than ever. Younger people may not relate to this and I didn't think the same way as a younger person."
Smart, who was born in England, raised in Moncton and graduated from high school in Rothesay, N.B., has just completed his first season as a right-side defender with the Crandall Chargers soccer team and he's 33 years-old.
He studied criminology at Saint Mary's University in Halifax after graduating from high school in 2004. That's when he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a debilitating intestinal disease that kept him bed-ridden for 18 hours a day and in and out of hospitals for 10 years.
The disease forced him to move back with his parents in Moncton. The ceaseless vomiting, diarrhea and blood loss left him anemic and malnourished.. His once-stout six-foot-frame was reduced to a meager 150 pounds.
"It took its toll on me in every way," Smart said. "It was physical, mental and socially. For 10 years, my life was on hold. I wasn't part of society for a long time. While my friends were going to school, getting married and getting their careers going, I was forced to stay home or in the hospital."
Advancements in medical science have given him his life back. Smart is back up to 215 pounds and he still has to receive three-hour intravenous treatments every eight weeks, which prevents the colitis from recurring.
It's also allowed him to get back in the classroom. After pursuing a criminology degree with an eye on law school, Smart has enrolled in the arts program at Crandall. He'll earn his sociology degree then study education with the goal of eventually teaching physical education.
"I look back and realize that sports were always my passion and I want a career in athletics," he said. "I will be involved with sports and I will be able to pass my message on to young people about how precious life is and you have to seize the day because there are no guarantees."
An important part of his Crandall life has been on the soccer pitch, where he played for the Chargers, who were winless in the Atlantic Colleges Athletic Association this season, but many lessons were learned.
"I'm out there against athletes who are 15 years younger and I'm giving them some life lessons," Smart said. "I want them to enjoy the sport and appreciate what they have."
Chargers head coach Kevin Talbot called Smart an inspiration to the team, whose roster was largely filled with rookies just out of high school.
"Nick is a player who will give 100 per cent and he is very fit and athletic," Talbot said. "He is a person who would usually struggle to get on to the university squad….Nick not only made the squad, but played in most of the games and actually got to start at least half.
"Away from the field," he continued, "Nick is a very positive person, who has been through a lot himself. He is always will to offer rides to and from practice to his teammates and is a fantastic teammate."
Smart expects the team will make great strides next season.
"I know that you learn a lot from your setbacks in life," he said. "If you struggle, you will appreciate your good times even more. We all learn from our losses in life."
~ story by Dwayne Tingley