If there ever was someone equipped to handle sports stardom at an early age, it was Bradley Smith.
On a Little League team of preteen and barely teen heroes, Smith stood out, not only as the tallest player on the team, but also one of the best — from the pitching mound and in the batter’s box. As his team of Petaluma National Little League All-Stars captured the admiration of their hometown and the attention of the entire nation with their enthusiasm and play in the Little League World Series of 2012, Smith was one that the national press focused on. He could handle it.
Quiet and unassuming, he took it all in stride, enjoying the game and his teammates if not the limelight. When life threw him a painful curve ball that threatened not only his sports future, but his life, he could handle it.
In a flash on a mild pre-spring day, Feb. 21, 2015, everything changed for the three-sport high school freshman. Smith was riding in an ATV on private property off Petaluma Hill Road with his friends and teammates Brendan O’Neill and Dominic Ayers when the vehicle skidded off the roadway and overturned.
O’Neill and Ayers were thrown clear, but the vehicle rolled over Smith.
In the days, weeks and months to follow, the questions changed from what sports he would excel in, to would he live or die, to would he lose his right arm, to would he ever play sports again and, finally after months of rehibilitation, back to the original question. That full cycle has been accomplished in an amazingly short period of time — less than a year.
That Smith, currently a sophomore at Petaluma High School, is now playing junior varsity basketball and looking forward to baseball in the spring is the result of his own exceptional physical condition, his determination and support from a multitude of people including his family, medical professionals, friends, and a caring Petaluma community.
Smith suffered two broken arms and a broken neck in the accident. The compound fracture to his right arm was so severe that he lost three inches of bone and severed an artery that was eventually repaired with a vein taken from his leg. He underwent seven surgeries within a 48-hour period.
In the immediate aftermath of the accident no one knew how severely Smith was injured, but his friends O’Neill and Ayers knew there was a lot of blood.
O’Neill and Smith have known each other and been teammates since they were pre-schoolers. While Ayers raced for help, O’Neill called 911 and tried to aid and comfort his friend.
“At first I was kind of disoriented, then I saw Bradley and went over and started trying to help him. I couldn’t believe the amount of blood that was running out of him,” O”Neill recalled. “I wrapped my shirt around his arm to try to stop the bleeding. I kept him lying down and kept telling him he was going to be all right.
“The whole thing happened so fast. I was real emotional. I didn’t want to lose my best friend.”
The first order of business when Smith got to the hospital was to save his life. His parents were initially told that doctors were having a difficult time stabilizing him because he had lost so much blood it was tough to reattach the artery. There was also a danger of losing his badly mangled right arm. Smith has little memory of the initial aftermath of the accident and wasn’t aware of the possibility of losing his arm.