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South Bay, East County tennis standout paralyzed after multi-car crash

Ivan Smith, 20, won national tennis title in 2021
Texas crash leaves local tennis standout paralyzed
Posted at 4:58 PM, Apr 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-26 14:15:58-04

CHULA VISTA, Calif. (KGTV) — A South Bay family is reeling after a two-car crash left a local tennis star paralyzed from the waist down.

An emotional Gary Smith sat down with ABC 10News and talked about the drive that turned tragic.

“It hurts. I feel bad for him,” said Smith.

His 20-year-old son Ivan, a standout tennis star at Hilltop High and Santana High, became the NAIA Men’s Open Doubles champ while competing for San Diego Christian College last year.

He then transferred to the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, TX. He was headed to practice at the school on the afternoon of April 5, when his car collided with another car at an intersection, sending his Ford Mustang spinning and crashing into a pole, causing life-threatening injuries, including punctured lungs.

"There are a lot of angels looking over him. I’m convinced of that,” said Smith.

Ivan would survive, but suffered a broken clavicle, fractured ribs and worse.

“As the car spun around, it pulled his body, stretched it out too far. It severed his spinal cord," said Smith.

Three doctors have told family that Ivan is paralyzed from the waist down.

"They were very emphatic. He will not walk again,” said Smith. “I wish I could trade places with him.”

Smith says his son, who is in and out of consciousness because of medication, hasn’t been told of the prognosis.

“In his mind, he’s going to be playing a month from now. It’s painful holding back the information … I agree with my wife, that right now, he just needs to recover,” said Smith, who serves as the President of the Balboa Tennis Club.

Back in Texas, Ivan’s teammates have been playing in his honor, his name written on their shirts. Meanwhile, despite the prognosis, his father vows to not give up.

“I do have faith. I’m going to working really hard to find research and clinical trials. I’m going to try to do what I can to help him. He would do the same for me,” said a tearful Smith.

Smith says the other driver was an uninsured teen driver. In the accident, she claimed her turn arrow turned yellow as the cars collided in the intersection. The report didn't determine fault. Drugs and alcohol are not believed to be factors in the crash.

A Gofundme campaign has been set up to help the family with medical expenses.