There's no holding him back

Shayne Smith, left, vows he’ll make the 2012 Paralympic team with the help of coach Steve Bialowas....

Shayne Smith, left, vows he’ll make the 2012 Paralympic team with the help of coach Steve Bialowas. Below, Smith, who has lost three limbs to a bacterial infection, hits the court. (Wolf Kutmahorsky photo)

MIKE STROBEL

, Last Updated: 4:44 PM ET

They took another little piece of Shayne Smith the other day.

That makes 23 or 24 pieces. "Somewhere around there," says Shayne, 21.

The toll to date, since he was a baby, includes: Both legs, most of his left arm and half of his right hand.

Not exactly conducive to a basketball career.

And the Raptors are worried about Marco Belinelli's sore groin.

Yet Shayne Smith has worn Canada's colours on basketball courts from Japan to Paris. And he dreams of the Paralympics team.

The latest loss to his shrinking bod is the tip of what's left of his right leg. A surgeon at Sunnybrook levelled it off during an hour-long operation.

So Shayne won't be at Variety Village when his Rolling Rebels practise tonight.

He's at home near Don Mills and Finch recovering, and fighting withdrawal demons. How many times can a guy wean himself off painkillers without going nuts?

"I'm feeling pretty thick right now," Shayne tells me down the line.

Let's drift back 13 years.

Shayne, 8, wheels into the gym at Variety Village, that east-end refuge for disabled kids. A wheelchair basketball team is practising.

Shayne is with his mom, Jo-ann.

When the docs told Jo-ann a bacterial infection was eating her baby alive, that he was doomed, she said: Like hell he is.

She fought and her tot fought and he grows into a puny kid minus most of his limbs. But full of piss and vinegar.

"Can I be on your team?" he asks the coach.

Steve Bialowas looks down at the kid. No limbs to speak of. Chunks missing. Five gnarly finger-stumps with which to dribble. A basketball player?

"You sure can," says Steve.

And so Shayne Smith becomes a basketball player. Success is not overnight.

Look at him, people say, he's down to half a hand. You're setting him up to fail.

"I don't care if he just wheels up and down the court," Steve replies. "He's on this team.

"His mind is set on it and who are we to say he can't?"

After four years, the kid scores his first basket.

But by 15 he's on the national junior team, at 16 the Ontario men's team.

He can dribble with the best, spin the ball like a Harlem Globetrotter, but on half a finger. In Germany earlier this year, he goes eight for 10 from the three-point line -- the same one the pros have -- and created his usual flurry of picks and steals.

Eat your heart out, Jay Triano. And you could learn at thing or two from Steve Bialowas -- especially if the Raptors are ever beset by school problems, girl trouble, any woes that come with being a young man in a wheelchair.

"My dad wasn't around, so Steve was it," Shayne tells me.

His biggest lesson?

"That no is never an option."

The latest surgery has sorely tested that motto -- and Shayne's dream of going to the Paralympic Games in London in 2012.

"But Steve gave me a little talk and when I get through this, I'm gonna train harder than I've ever trained and I'm gonna make that team."

I would not bet against him.

But here's the rub.

In August, Variety Village had to lay off Bialowas, among others, from his admin job. Times are tough, Toots, even at the Village.

But Steve, 49, continues to coach, for free.

"I've been with some of these kids for a long, long time," he says. "I just can't let that go to waste."

Which brings me to my Toronto Sun/Variety Village Christmas Fund.

I hope it helpS Steve Bialowas get his job back. I hope we can avert further cuts in staff and programs.

Meanwhile, donating to the Christmas Fund could win you: Four luxury box tickets to the Leafs, Raptors or a concert, and other great draw prizes. See Page S20, the back cover of Sports, for details and a coupon.

Need any more motivation? Shayne is working on a speaking career. He will call his new business Differently Capable.

"Nothing should hold you back," he tells me. "That's my message.

"I figure if I can shoot 80% from the floor with half a hand, surely you can get up and go to work with a smile on your face."

For details on the contest and how to donate to Variety Village online, click here.

STROBEL'S COLUMN RUNS WEDNESDAY TO FRIDAY, AND SUNDAY. MIKE.STROBEL@SUNMEDIA.CA OR 416-947-2265


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