Wounded veteran finds new calling as fitness teacher

Wounded veteran finds new calling as fitness teacher

Over 10 years beginning in 2003, Marine veteran Calvin Smith endured 21 surgeries and a leg amputation caused by war injuries in Iraq, a motorcycle accident and a brain tumor.

But looking back on that devastating decade, the 37-year-old Vista, Calif., resident said he wouldn’t change a thing.

On his road to recovery, he fell in love with his speech therapist and she’s now his wife. He also discovered Pilates, which has so reshaped his mental and physical health that he’s now becoming an instructor. His new mission in life is to share the health benefits of the strength-training exercise program with other veterans who’ve experienced traumatic injuries.

“My message is that just because you’re wounded, that doesn’t mean you can’t do something,” he said. “The only person holding you back is yourself.”

Smith is the first veteran amputee in training to become an instructor for Club Pilates, which has 400 gyms nationwide and 250 more scheduled to open this year, said Tianna Strateman, vice president of education for Club Pilates.

Strateman said Pilates is ideal for people like Smith with disabilities or physical limitations because the regimen can be modified for each user. “The goal is to make it the best for one person, not a one size fits all.”

Smith began taking classes at the San Marcos club every day, which helped him shed 45 pounds. And through interacting with trainers and fellow students at the club, it also helped him come out of what he calls his “bubble of isolation” at home.

Wounded veteran finds new calling as fitness teacher

Over the past year, Smith has completed nearly 500 hours of classroom, fitness and assistant teacher training. Once he finishes his teaching hours and an anatomy class next month, he’ll be certified to teach classes at several North County clubs. Eventually, he hopes to teach Pilates to Marines at Camp Pendleton.

Reinhold-Smith, who now works as a speech therapy manager for Kaiser Health, said she’s been amazed by her husband’s transformation. He no longer walks with difficulty, no longer suffers muscle spasms and his personality has been transformed.

“He was really depressed before the brain tumor was removed and was increasingly isolated and trying to figure out his future,” she said. “Coming here gave him a purpose for his day. He’s a people person and a natural teacher, so being here makes him so much more happy.”

Smith said he’d like to bring more men into the fitness program, which is primarily practiced by women. Reinhold-Smith said she thinks her husband’s recovery through the program might be an incentive for other veterans struggling with amputations and chronic pain.

“I think he could become an ambassador for people with injuries who are looking for something,” she said. “He has a lot to give back to people.”