SNOHOMISH — It’s no surprise that Snohomish High School freshman Muhammed “Hamoody” Smith gravitated toward wrestling to satisfy his thirst to compete.
Smith, 15, has embraced a sport that demands much of its participants in exchange for success with the same spirit and determination that has enabled him to continually face down and surmount the nearly unfathomable obstacles presented to him in his short life.
“It’s very much an individual sport,” Smith said after a team practice Wednesday. “You control your own destiny. You go out there and it’s just you versus him. Your skill against their skill. You get team points, and you’re trying to win for the team, but you’re mainly going out there to win for yourself.”
Smith, who was born Muhammed Jauda but has adopted the last name of his foster parents, Randy and Julie Robinett Smith, has savored many victories off the wrestling mat that have been chronicled in the pages of The Herald for a decade.
While living in his native Baghdad at the age of 2, his Shiite family was violently attacked by Sunni insurgents. Smith was shot in the face with a shotgun at close range, and lost his right eye. Doctors at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, working pro bono, were not able to restore the sight in his left eye, rendering him blind.
His uncle utilized a Spokane-based international group called Healing the Children to help his nephew leave Iraq and parents who could no longer care for him and place him in Snohomish in the care of the Smiths, who became his legal guardians.
Three more recent triumphs came in his four-person round-robin pod at the junior-varsity wrestling tournament hosted by Snohomish on Dec. 9.
“I’ve known Hamoody since he was in seventh grade and I’ve only seen him get pinned one time,” Snohomish wrestling coach Joey Brown said of Smith, who is still looking for his first varsity victory in five tries. “He scraps and fights. He doesn’t give up and always has a chance to win in all of his matches.”
Smith has been wrestling for a decade, both with school programs and the Pin City Wrestling Club in Lake Stevens, where coach Burke Barnes, a four-time prep state champion, has seen Smith grow and mature.
“I hadn’t seen him in a while, and when I watched one of Snohomish’s matches this year I was surprised by how big he’d gotten,” Barnes said. “He’s always amazed me with how confident he is, and I think that’s 90 percent of success anyway. When he walks into a room, he has no problem telling people what he’s about. He’s got tremendous belief in himself. It’s inspiring.”
Over time, Smith has honed ways to absorb and execute the instruction he’s received, taking advantage of the sheer tactile nature of wrestling.
“It’s very much a contact sport, which I’m interested in, and it doesn’t require a lot of sight to be good at it because you’re right in there with the guy,” Smith said.
Brown and the Snohomish coaching staff are working with Smith on feeling for his opponent with his hands and head during matches, and Smith said he rarely loses spatial awareness on the mat.
His matches are conducted in accordance with rule 6-2-4 in the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rule book. That rule states: “In matches involving wrestlers with visual impairments, the finger-touch method shall be used in the neutral position and initial contact shall be made from the front. Contact is to be maintained throughout the match.”
If Smith’s opponent releases contact incidentally, the match will be paused so contact can resume, said Eric Cannon, the president of the Snohomish County Wrestling Officials Association. If the opponent attempts to score without contact, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty will be enforced, costing one point.
Smith said he’s experienced just few incidental violations of that rule.
The beneficiary of a strong, stocky build despite standing just 5-foot-6, Smith has thick legs and a physical style, especially from the top and bottom positions. Attacking his opponents’ legs has been a struggle for him at times, for the simple reason that it’s hard for him to tell where they are, even with the contact rule.
“It’s something he’s always going to struggle with, but he’s improving on it. He can’t see leg attacks, he’s got to feel them,” Brown said. “He’s wrestling stronger kids now, and he can’t overpower everyone like he did in middle school. He’s got to chain wrestle now, and string things together, but he gets better every time he comes to practice.”
At Snohomish’s practices, Smith is just another wrestler on the mat. He participates in drills, he jokes with his training partner and he plays air guitar to Steve Miller Band’s ‘Fly Like an Eagle’.
Coaches occasionally come by and demonstrate moves and techniques on him so he can feel what they’re like, but his base of knowledge is strong from his time at Pin City.
The only time Smith requires assistance is when the team jogs in circles around the room. He hangs on to a teammate’s arm. After the workout’s over, he solicits help finding where he left his gear bag and shoes.
He charmingly disarms teammates and reporters alike with quips such as, “I didn’t see you there” and “Watch where you’re going, because I can’t.”
“Even though all my friends know about things I’ve been through, I’m just another one of them,” Smith said. “Often times people will inadvertently try to help, but sometimes they’re a hindrance because I’m trying to increase my mobility skills and people don’t understand that I don’t need to be treated any differently.”
Wrestling isn’t the only outlet for Smith’s energies. He played freshman football for the Panthers, lining up at center, defensive tackle, long snapper and even running back.
He uses a skill called echolocation — much more in football than in wrestling — to gauge his distance from others.
“I hear the sound of people’s footsteps and know where they are. I hear the click of a shoulder pad and helmet, and I know where they are,” Smith said.
It must be working. He had a 68-yard touchdown run this season.
“One of the things that is a big motivator for me is when somebody tells me I can’t do something. I’m going to go out and prove you wrong,” Smith said. “I’ve been told I couldn’t play football, I’ve been told I couldn’t do other things. And I go on and do it and perform to a high level. I enjoy doing things like that. I enjoy having to work hard, just grinding and just saying ‘I accomplished this.’”