COLUMBIA, SC — Her son has been an inspiration to thousands, but Yolanda Smith has a motivational message all her own.
Smith, the mother of one of South Carolina’s most-beloved stars, Marcus Lattimore, shared her story at the Columbia Urban League’s Equal Opportunity Day banquet on Thursday.
“It’s about planting seeds and using your adversities to help somebody else,” said the effervescent Smith before the event. “Whatever you get out of it, good or bad, it wasn’t just for you. If anybody else can learn anything from it, that’s a blessing.”
“I know that my trials, my adversities, whatever it is, it was so my kids wouldn’t have to go through it and so I would understand it if they did,” she said.
Lattimore’s well-publicized triumph over the trauma of physical injury are well-known, and it was his mother who taught him how to overcome.
With a group of Gamecock football parents among the crowd of local business leaders, clergy and elected officials, Smith, who was raised by her grandmother in an Atlanta housing project, told of how she married at 17, seven months pregnant and three months shy of her high school graduation.
She told of how the marriage to her high school sweetheart ended due to his drug and alcohol addiction in just a few years. Her second marriage, to Lattimore’s father, ended because of physical and mental abuse, she said.
That divorce left her homeless with four children—three from her two marriages, and a nephew she took in after a family crisis. She found shelter through the kindness of a friend. She relied on her faith for peace and strength, even as she took in another child—a niece—and eventually met and married her husband, Vernon Smith.
Centering her life, and her children’s, on her Christian faith has been the key to her legacy and the basis for her youngest son’s success and admiration.
“Ma’am, not only have you raised an amazing athlete, but a fine young man, who has demonstrated through faith and hard work, anything is possible,” Mayor Steve Benjamin said. “It’s time for us to follow Mrs. Smith’s example.”
When Lattimore suffered his second consecutive season-ending knee injury in October 2012, Smith was as heartbroken as Lattimore. But as in all their previous hard times, it was then that their shared faith spurred both Smith and Lattimore to push toward something greater.
“I truly hope I have planted a seed in someone, to not give up when life hits you with adversity. As my son says, adversity introduces a man to himself,” Smith told the crowd.
And true to his mother’s philosophy, Lattimore has found a way to make his struggles benefit others.
While Lattimore is in San Francisco completing his rehabilitation and awaiting his first start with the NFL 49ers, Smith serves as treasurer and spokeswoman for his charity, The Marcus Lattimore Foundation, based here in South Carolina. The charity is aimed at helping provide funds for high school and college athletes who lack the funding or insurance to cover rehabilitation costs and to help student-athletes and their families understand college scholarship eligibility requirements.
“My name is Yolanda Smith, and as for me and my house, we will continue to serve the Lord, through faith, family and football,” Smith said, closing to laughter and applause.