Cancer claims Chase Smith after six-year battle

Chase Smith had been living his best life, no excuses and no holds barred, all the way through a cancer fight that lasted five rounds and six years — and even more so through these final months once he knew the fight was no longer winnable.

The fight finally ended Sunday when Smith passed away at the age of 19, succumbing to Ewing’s sarcoma after having successfully fought it off four other times since his initial diagnosis in July of 2014.

His most recent victory had come about a year ago, when aggressive targeted radiation treatments had left Smith cancer-free as of last January. He then completed his final season of high school swimming, competing for Indian Creek at the state meet in late February of 2020.

Just weeks later, in early April, scans showed that new tumors were popping up yet again, this time in both of his lungs and in his left arm and shoulder. By the middle of the month, the cancer had spread all over his body — including in his skull, around his pituitary gland and in his spinal fluid. Even the most optimistic diagnoses gave Smith just three to five months to live.

Of course, Chase being Chase, he held on for about a year.

Those who had stood by Chase’s side through the entire fight — his parents, Brad and Kelli; his sister, Kaitlin; Sadie, who became his wife last April 29 in a ceremony that earned national media attention; and a close-knit collection of ride-or-die friends and teammates from Indian Creek — remained right there through the final bell.

Throughout the past year, there were almost always multiple extra vehicles parked outside the Smith house, social distancing be damned. Before Sadie moved in after the wedding, Chase’s friends were camping out there for days on end. They were there yet again in his final hours.

Chase was determined to squeeze as much as he could out of his remaining days — and so he did. He took a handful of vacations and served as an assistant coach for the Indian Creek swim team, achieving his goal of living long enough to see his younger cousins, Joey and Sam Smith, competing at state again a few weeks ago.

Eventually, the final onslaught delivered by cancer proved too much to overcome, but it couldn’t diminish the impact that Chase made both on the Indian Creek community and the swimming community in Johnson County and beyond.

One of the best swimmers in his age group nationwide when he was in middle school, Smith saw a promising career derailed when Ewing’s sarcoma first showed up in his right thigh just weeks after his 13th birthday. He had surgery that fall, with seven inches of affected bone and muscle being removed and part of a cadaver bone inserted.

Despite the physical setbacks that resulted, Smith always remained competitive in the pool, helping steer Indian Creek relay teams to each of the last three state meets. More importantly, his mere presence on deck throughout his prolonged battle — first as a swimmer and then as a coach alongside his father — was an inspiration to everybody who came in contact with him.

The pool at Indian Creek was renamed the Chase M. Smith Natatorium in his honor last August.

Former college football star Tim Tebow was among the celebrities who befriended him; Tebow, who has known Smith for a couple of years now, flew Chase and Sadie down to visit his Florida home in late June — and helped Chase, a huge college football fan, score tickets to the Ohio State-Clemson playoff game on New Year’s Day.

Chase Smith never signed up for fame or for being a superhero, though; perhaps more than anything, he craved normalcy. He didn’t ask for his own special graduation ceremony last year — even if Indian Creek would have almost certainly granted him one under the circumstances — because he never wanted to be treated differently than his classmates.

The time he spent with his friends, either in the pool or riding around town or playing video games, was his ultimate escape from the reality that was thrust upon him for his entire adolescence — and those closest to him made sure he had that escape available to him for as long as he could bear to stick around.

That time may not have lasted as long as it should have, but Chase Smith made the most of it — and nobody who came in contact with him will soon forget it. Or him.