Tom Smith loves the game of hockey. He’s twice felt the pain — both immediate and residual — of having that game taken away from him.
A Swampscott native and Pingree School graduate, Smith is now focused on helping other players avoid major head and spinal cord injuries that could force an outcome similar to his own.
With that in mind — and with the help of a couple friends — he created the Look-Up Line, an orange painted surface that surrounds a rink’s sheet of ice, like a warning track for hockey.
On August 2, 2008, Smith, while playing for the Boston Bulldogs Junior A hockey team, collided with his own goalie and slid head-first into the boards. He dislocated his C-1, C-2, C-5, and C-6 vertebrae.
He was told he’d never walk again, but thanks to rigorous therapy at The Miami Project, a world renowned spinal cord injury research center located in the Lois Pope LIFE Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Smith got back on his feet.
He returned to the ice a little more than a year later, and 14 months after the initial injury Smith was tripped up once again playing hockey and hit the right side of his head against the boards. He suffered a second unrelated spinal cord injury, this time to his T-3 vertabra, and found himself back in a wheelchair.
Since then, Smith has been focused on recovery (he now walks with assistive devices), the Thomas E. Smith Foundation, and a way to make the game of hockey safer.
‘A natural fit’
He believes that the Look-Up Line, which is 40-inches of orange paint, can help prevent serious injuries without interfering with the speed and intensity of the game.
“We were looking to reinvent the wheel,” Smith said. “We tried cushioning the boards. NASCAR put foam behind the concrete after Dale Earnhardt died (at Daytona in 2001), and studies discovered that drivers absorbed less vibration. We tried over 35 different foams, but the puck hit the boards and died.”