When he was 8, he was playing wheelchair basketball. By 10, he was the youngest competitor in the Marine Corps Marathon, riding alongside his dad, so he wouldn't get bumped.
But that took a different kind of courage. Last week Kevin Smiley spent several days procrastinating before he showed up in Center City with his sign of the times.
He faced the morning rush at 16th and Market in a shirt and tie, a giant placard resting on the arms of his hand-pushed chair:
Looking for work
His first day, Monday, the aspiring sportswriter kept his sign and his chin up for three hours, gave away six or seven resumés, and left feeling as if he'd proven something to himself.
He went back the next morning and the next and the next, and a few afternoons, tucked among the polished stone planters and the food carts that spiced the air with cantaloupe and fried onion.
By week's end he felt as if good things were starting to happen.
A reporter from NBC10 put him on the news. A passerby asked for his resumé, then handed it to an editor on Comcast's Web site, who invited him in to interview him for an internship.
Smiley, who is 23, is hawking his services on the streets because he does not want to pack up and go home.
"Philadelphia is a better place for me to live than Lancaster," he said. "I have more freedom here. There are buses, subways. I feel more at home here, and the people I've met since coming here for college are really great."
His mother had suggested his sidewalk job search. She'd seen a pair of young grads on the news, handing out resumés in suits under the Ben Franklin Bridge. She knew her son had the guts to try it as well.
He relies on a wheelchair because he was born with spina bifida, a condition in which the spine and backbone don't entirely close. He has nearly no sensation below his knees.
"People see me in a wheelchair and think it's worse than it is," he said in a soft voice as commuters strolled by. "I'm definitely better off than other people with disabilities. I can walk a short distance with crutches."
In high school he started covering track and field events, and wrote up soccer games for the school paper.
Joanne Smiley said by phone that she and her husband, Ken, agonized over their son's announcement that he wanted to go to Temple - so far, so big. His parents own a deli in Lancaster. Neither went to college.
But Kevin was set on it, and they backed him.
At Temple he majored in journalism, graduating cum laude, with a 3.32 grade-point average.
Christopher Harper, an associate professor in that department, recalls Smiley was a pleasure to teach. "He worked hard. He was always willing to answer a question. Outside of class, he would wheel up to say hello. I remember one day when he came speeding up to see my daughter and me on campus. I told him that I wished I had half of his energy."
Harper says Smiley was interested in issues involving the physically challenged, which he thought the media didn't adequately cover. "But he never used his own challenge as an excuse. In fact, his attendance record for classes was a lot better than most students. He usually was the first one there for class."
On Friday, Smiley had to cut his soft sell short. He handed out a few resumés, pocketed business cards from a corporate headhunter and a man whose wife was seeking travel writers for her Web site.
Then he had to get ready for his appointment at Comcast.
There would be a quick quiz, some conversation. Several more people were due to be interviewed after him.
"If it works out, great," he said. "I'm sure there will be other opportunities."
He packed up his sign and his resumés and began wheeling himself up North 16th Street, toward his apartment. Faster and faster he flew.
Contact Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5917 or firstname.lastname@example.org.