As Elijah Smith ran around the tent getting ready for the Leukemia Lymphoma Light the Night Walk to start, surrounded by family and friends, all you saw was a smiling, happy, healthy eight-year old boy.
You didn’t see someone struggling to keep up, you didn’t see the signs of pain and suffering that the last few years were filled with.
Those are now things of the past, things that won’t be forgotten, but thankfully things that they are no longer reminder of daily. Because on this night you didn’t see Elijah Smith leukemia patient, you saw Elijah Smith the fighter, the child with heart, with courage and with strength.
On this night you saw Elijah Smith…leukemia survivor.
As he proudly held on to a white balloon that signified survivor, with a small light inside that was a shining beacon of the fight he battled and conquered, there was no one prouder of him than his parents, former Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith and his wife Jaimie. They stood by his side as the walk began outside of Heinz Field; a walk attended by Steelers players and their families all wearing Team Elijah t-shirts celebrating the completion of his treatment and supporting all of those taking part in the walk.
“This is the first year we have done it with him being done with treatment,” said Aaron Smith. “It’s a little extra special. Any time we did something and he was having treatment you worried. Now we can just enjoy it being with friends and family.
“It’s just unbelievable. It’s wonderful. And to have all of the support of the Steelers, I still have a lot of good friendships, but even guys I just met are coming out and supporting it. That’s the way the Steelers are. It’s a big family and we all support and help each other.”
One player proud to be supporting the Smith family was nose tackle Casey Hampton. Hampton and Smith have a close bond, and he saw how tough it was when Elijah was diagnosed with leukemia.
“I remember when it first went down and all of the things Aaron went through,” said Hampton. “It’s great Elijah is doing a lot better and has progressed to this point. It’s special because it’s something we have been doing for a while with Aaron. It’s good to do something special with people you are friends with, you love, you have known for a long time.”
The walk is one of the main fundraisers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, with proceeds benefitting patient and research programs. And thanks to Smith and his former Steelers teammates, it’s also a chance to bring attention and awareness to the fight.
“It shows cancer can strike anywhere at any time, even if you are an NFL player” said Tina Massari, executive director of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Western Pennsylvania. “That is important for other patients and families to feel it’s not just them. The fact that the team comes out and supports it is good for the families and us and helps us continue on with our mission.
“It’s amazing. I know Aaron said last year no matter what happens he would be back next year. This is a night that is special to them, not just for the players or the team, but because of Elijah.”
Hines Ward, who has an eight-year old son of his own, has always participated in the walk and this year was no different. Ward was in town and there wasn’t going to be there to support his former teammate.
“Any time a teammate goes through that we are all affected by that,” said Ward. “It hits home to me. Elijah is all the way back. To see him having fun and running around and being a kid, it’s what it’s all about. It’s good to see a smile on his face.”
As the walk got underway, Elijah looked around and smiled. Maybe he was smiling because he saw all the support he was getting. Maybe it was because he knew over the next few days he would be going to school, and playing soccer, just like all his other friends. Whatever the reason, he was smiling, and that is what mattered most.
“It’s hard for most to understand, but unless you have been down that road the joy you see of your child doing the simple things that most of us take for granted makes you almost want to cry,” said Smith. “But he is doing so wonderful. He has done fantastic. Watching him play soccer makes me want to cry…it did make me cry the first time I saw him play.”
But on this night, Aaron Smith was smiling too.
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