Most people would not expect someone with a disability to be so successful. They do not expect them to be a record-holding college pitcher, hold three high school state
championship titles as a coach, or to be inducted into the hall of fame.
That is until they met Randy Smith. He has accomplished all of those things while being a type 1 diabetic.
Smith was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was six years old. He stayed in and out of Children’s Hospital his entire childhood and still has trouble staying out of the hospital as an adult. Although he has had many trials in his life, he has handled every situation head-first and has come out on top.
Smith played college baseball for Livingston University, now known as The University of West Alabama. He was the college’s ace pitcher and was always happy to be there and a part of the program.
“I started playing baseball when I was six years old,” Smith said. “It was like love at first pitch.”
Smith always had a coke handy in the dugout in the case of a diabetic reaction. His reactions caused him to abnormally sweat and feel dizzy.
“I think me playing baseball helped the diabetes,” Smith said. “Being active made my blood circulate and helped me feel better all together.”
He did not just pitch, he also was considered a utility player and could play every position on the field.
“My dad was my coach through most of my childhood career,” Smith said. “He made me work harder than anybody else on the field.”
Smith said that it helped him become a better person and to always work towards what you want because nothing is ever given to you.
Smith graduated from Demopolis Academy in 1974 where he lettered in varsity football, basketball and baseball. He loved every sport, but baseball had his heart.
“When I was a kid, I got a 1×4 and an aluminum foil ball and gathered the neighbors to play in my backyard,” Smith said. “I wanted to play every day and every night. It only seemed right to play for the next level.”
Smith accepted a baseball scholarship to Livingston University in the fall of 1974. He started for the Livingston Tigers for four years as their starting pitcher and left records that are still there today.
“I enjoyed playing at Livingston because of Coach Hoss Bowlin,” Smith said. “He made my four years unforgettable, he was a good coach and a good person.”
Smith has a lot of memories from his college baseball days.
“My buddy Gary Busby used to room with me when we were away with the team,” Smith said. “I taught him how to give me my insulin shots and he did it every night for me.”
Smith took insulin shots two times a day, sometimes four when it was necessary. He took shots every day since his diagnosis until he received his insulin pump in 1997.
“I got my insulin pump after my first kidney transplant,” Smith said. “It changed the entire game for diabetics like me.”
Smith received his first kidney transplant in 1997 after his kidney began to fail from the loss of blood flow from his heart to his kidneys.
During this time, Smith began coaching at Cordova High School in Walker County, Alabama. He started to get sick the year before he started coaching and won a state championship despite the sickness. Smith received dialysis three days a week for four hours a day.
“I took it on Tuesdays and Thursdays from seven to 11 and went to work from 11:30 to three in the afternoon,” Smith said. “Then on Saturdays from seven to 11 and I would always meet my family to eat lunch after.”
Smith stayed on this schedule for six months. He finally received his first transplant at the end of the six months.
“My dad was gracious enough to donate his kidney to me,” Smith said. “Not everyone can say their dad loved them enough, that he gave them his kidney.”
During the first transplant, Smith stayed in the hospital for 63 days. He lost his job at Cordova High School and could not be around his family.
“I was up at daylight and in the bed at dark,” Smith said. “It was difficult coming from going non-stop every day to being on complete bed rest.”
When he finally was released from the hospital he went straight to teaching at Carbon Hill High School. He started coaching football that next fall.
“I felt good to be back on the field.” Smith said. “I love coaching and I could not have been back on that field fast enough.”
He said that coaching was rough on his body and the stress was hard on his diabetes.
“It is like being 40-years-old and being in a 70-year-olds body,” Smith said. “It just eats every organ that is functioning and pretty much makes it not able to function correctly.”
Diabetes makes you live your life differently. Smith would take a coke and candy bar on every trip he made with the team to avoid a diabetic reaction. He finally got back on his feet.
Smith started coaching softball in 2008 at Carbon Hill High School. He began getting sick again and knew his kidney was beginning to fail for the second time.
“I started getting sick again and could not function normally.” Smith said. “I had to begin dialysis again.”
Smith was starting it all over again. He was constantly sick and had no energy. He had to eventually give up coaching softball.
“I hated to give it up,” Smith said. “I had no choice.”
Smith’s cousin donated his kidney for his second transplant. He never had to be put on the kidney donors list.
“I am thankful every day for my cousin and my dad,” Smith said. “It is like a man laying down his life for you, something you could never forget. I joke with my cousin now because I gave him my boat, kinda like I gave him a boat for a kidney.”
After recovering from his second kidney transplant, Smith received a job opportunity at Cordova High School coaching football, softball and girl’s basketball. He jumped right on board and began coaching as quickly as possible.
“I coached a total of 33 years,” Smith said. “I have been given more opportunities than a lot of people with this disease can even imagine. I was lucky.”
Smith retired in 2012 from Cordova High School.
“I went to the state finals seven times and won three,” Smith said. “I made it to the state playoffs every year in a lot of different sports.”
Smith had accomplished more with a disability than most people accomplish in their entire life.
“I was proud,” Smith said. “Not everyone can say that they got to do what they loved for 33 years, but I can.”
Smith spent most of his days fishing and golfing on a daily basis.
While Smith was coaching at Cordova in 2009, he started thinking his feet were hurting from bad shoes. He would be standing on the sidelines barefooted trying to coach.
“I thought I just kept buying sorry shoes,” Smith said. “Both of my feet were hurting constantly.”
Smith was diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy the same year. Diabetic neuropathy is a painful burning nerve pain that is found in the feet and hands of diabetic patients and causes them to lose limbs.
“I started losing toes one at a time,” Smith said. “I lost all my toes, but one and the disease started to infect my other foot as well.”
Smith had his left leg amputated in 2015 and is still losing toes on his right foot.
“Eventually I will lose my right leg too.” Smith said. “I just have to get good on prosthetics. I call them my submarine legs.”
He always stays positive about his conditions and never let them defeat him.
“He has been fantastic,” said Roxie Smith, wife of Randy Smith. “He never let it get him down. He still jokes and has his sense of humor. He has never lost faith and been strong. God brought him to it, God will see him through it.”
Smith’s family stay supportive and helps him any way they can.
“I am just thankful I did not have it,” said Angela Johnson sister of Randy Smith. “I have watched how much of an impact it has made on my two brothers and I am so grateful for them every day.”
Smith is being inducted into the Marengo County Hall of Fame in February of 2016. He is being honored for his coaching record and all he has accomplished over the years. He received never ending support from his family, friends and teammates through his life.
“I never saw diabetes as being a disability or a handicap,” Smith said. “I never let it stop me from doing what anyone else can do physically, mentally and socially. I am blessed to be 59 years old and still fighting the battle of this disease.”