Community rallies around fallen friend

The community of Hood River showed how big its collective heart can be last Friday when more than 200 people came together at Hood River Valley High School to support the Noah Smith Rehabilitation Fund.

The name of the game was basketball, but the name on everyone’s mind that night was Smith, a 1999 HRVHS graduate who was left paralyzed from the neck down after a freak auto accident on Dec. 1.

Twenty-four teams of three helped raise $4,645 to support their fallen friend, who is currently recovering in the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon (RIO) — a subsidiary of Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland.

“This kind of support really reflects the kind of person Noah is,” said friend Chad Madsen, who helped organize the co-ed, all-ages 3-on-3 tournament along with Jake Williams and Travis Bowe.

“The people in the community know him as family, and a turnout like this just goes to show what a special place this is,” he said.

Madsen said that in the past two weeks, the fund has taken in nearly $6,000 in donations from local businesses and community members. Fifty-three businesses donated items for a fund-raising raffle, which was held after the tournament.

“When we heard about what had happened, we knew we had to do something,” Madsen said. “But if it hadn’t been us, it would have been someone else.”

Staging the tournament during the holidays also ensured that many of Smith’s friends, past and present, could attend. Three such individuals — Blake Lawrence, Taylor Armerding and Dustin Freeman — went on to win the tournament. But, as most people in attendance agreed, winning took a back seat to goodwill on this night.

“It’s been tough,” said Lawrence, who roomed with Smith two years ago at the University of Oregon. “We all wish that he could be here, but it’s an awesome feeling to see people come together like this. I know Noah appreciates it.”

As does his family. Parents John and Marilyn have developed a website — www.noahsmith.org — which details Smith’s life before and after his accident. The site also includes news, photos and thoughts from his family and friends.

“The outpouring of love and support from (Noah’s) worldwide circle of friends has no doubt been a major factor in his recuperation to date,” writes Marilyn Smith. “The folks at Sacred Heart say they have never seen anything like the parade of visitors and room decorations surrounding Noah.”

She also talks of the amazing progress her son has made in the one month since the accident. While Smith has been classified as “quadriplegic,” he has already made tremendous progress and has regained some dexterity in his right hand.

Doctors stress that it is difficult to predict the extent of Smith’s recovery, but his age (22), fitness, mental strength and support system all contribute to a positive outlook for future improvement.

“Good people like Noah can make the best of situations like this,” Madsen said. “His spirits are high and he’s still the same guy we know and love. I can’t say that I would be able to move forward the way he has. It’s been very inspiring.”

If you would like to contribute to the Noah Smith Rehab Fund, please send your support to 5640 Alder Rd., Hood River, OR 97031.

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