The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Colleen Smith fights on despite life-threatening illness

At the peak of her collegiate volleyball career, sophomore Colleen Smith is at a position in her life that many questioned would even be possible. Through her bubbly personality and bright smile, it is clear that nothing could ever faze this determined athlete; not even a life-threatening disease.

In 2011 Smith was first diagnosed with Wegener’s Granulomatosis, which affects only ten in a million people per year. It’s a disease that inflames the blood vessels and it affects organs such as the kidneys and lungs. If not treated immediately after detection, it can prove to be fatal. Smith discovered the complication only as a freshman during her stay at Indiana University, and it was more than clear that the autoimmune disease was quickly wearing down her body.

As the level of severity sharply increased, she was placed under chemotherapy. Despite a four-hour distance from their home to Indiana University, parents, Robert and Krista would spend every weekend by their daughter’s side.

When warned that Smith may “never be able to play,” both her and her family were taken quite aback.

“I’ve been playing since eighth grade, and I’ve never really had a serious injury where I sat out,” Smith said. Given the extremity of the case, many believed that what the doctors had predicted would come true. But the following year, she was ready for a comeback.

“Once I got sick, I was determined. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to come back from this,'” she said. Due to medical clearance issues, the setter was unable to train with her Hoosier teammates. This prompted the initiative to work on her own.

She found the process of getting back into shape to be both physically and emotionally difficult, but it was never enough to stop her.

“Obviously there was a lot of doubt from people … I would always tell them ‘I’m going to play, I want to be an All-American, I want to do this,'” she said.

Smith is now a starting setter for DePaul’s volleyball team and has finally been given the chance to show the world what she’s really made of. She has already made history with the team over a 13-game winning streak to start the season, and she’s just getting started.

“I literally feel like the best I’ve ever felt,” she said.

By forming bonds with her teammates during preseason, Smith has been able to adapt to the team with ease.

“I love it here, the coaching staff is very supportive … It’s definitely the right fit for me,” she said.

Although she is now in remission, she has become very in tune with her body and has “phenomenal” doctors who require her to have her blood checked every month and a half.

In spite of her medical history, Smith says her teammates are just as hard on her as they are on each other.

“I would never want them to be like, ‘you know, take it easier on Colleen’ or anything,” she said.

After knowing what it is like to sit out for two years, she comes into practice with nothing but determination to get better.

Serving as an inspiration to many, Smith’s challenges can make the struggles of any average college student look like a walk in the park. Her determined outlook on life can serve as a reminder to us all that even when a situation may seem difficult, it is only ever as hard as you make it out to be. Smith puts it best.

“I always come here with the mindset to give it all you have, because anything can happen.”

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