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Toki Activist, Athlete Reaches Final Round of United Spinal Association Contest

Eighth grade Toki Middle School student Hayden Smith is already a blue belt in karate, national award-winning swimmer, hockey player, and social activist. Now, he’s also a finalist for the United Spinal Association #StrongWheeled Together Awards. 

Hayden is one of only 15 finalists for the national competition, presented to those living with spinal cord injuries and disorders who are advancing their abilities to reach new levels of success. He began using a wheelchair at age one due to a tumor in his spinal column.

Within the Youth Leadership category of the awards, Hayden’s YouTube video submission is one of only three remaining finalists–the video with the most “likes” will receive $5,000 to continue to pursue their goals.

“I was excited and surprised to learn I was a finalist, I didn’t think I’d make it that far,” Hayden said. “I want to have a life like other kids do, so anything I can do to make it simpler, I’ll take action on those issues and do what I can to fix it.”

Hayden has demonstrated his passion for both athletics and activism for years. He created Toki’s Social Action Club in summer of 2020 in solidarity with the nationwide protests calling for racial justice. Even during online learning amid the pandemic, Hayden and club members continued to educate and inspire change by holding “virtual protests.” Since then, the club has led Black Lives Matter marches attended by hundreds of students at Toki, and sustainability outreach around Earth Day.

“I enjoy being able to take action on the things I care about, and make a difference,” Hayden said. “I then want to go onto new things, like supporting accessible high schools and sporting equipment.”

As a multi-sport athlete, Hayden knows the importance of accessibility in athletics. In 2021, he broke seven national records in swimming at the Move United Junior Nationals, an affiliate of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. Hayden was frustrated being limited to adaptive baseball leagues, so he became the first Little League baseball player to compete in a wheelchair.

If he wins the #StrongWheeled Together Award, Hayden wants to invest the funds in school-based projects and save for college. At Toki and his future high school, he would purchase adaptive sporting equipment and aim to access more school buses with wheelchair lifts, so all students can ride together; a project Hayden spearheaded previously when he met with the MMSD School Board and presented the importance of accessible buses for Project Soapbox

“My parents have been really supportive of me, and a lot of my teachers at Toki,” Hayden said. “I just want to expand life to make it more open for all.”

You can vote for Hayden now by liking his #StrongWheeled Together Awards YouTube video submission.

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