Britain's Pamela Relph, Naomi Riches, Davis Smith, James Roe and Lily van den Broecke celebrate on the podium after they win gold in the rowing LTA mixed coxed four during the London 2012 Paralympic Games (AFP)
He not only taught himself to walk again but claimed a seat alongside James Roe, Pamela Relph, Naomi Riches and cox Lily van den Broecke after a competitive selection process.
And together they held off world record holder Germany and Ukraine to cover the 1000m course in 3:19.38.
"The physio who found my tumours, Pat Dunleavy, he saved my life," said Smith.
"The tumours had been in there for 12 years and they recommended they take them out.
"I’ve now got a nice little scar in the front of my neck, I’ve now got eight screws, two metal cages and a metal plate holding my neck in place and that was only two years ago.
"I was paralysed from the neck down and learning to walk again. I said at the start line nothing can be as hard as learning to walk again and waking up not being able to feel your legs, that’s the hardest thing I have ever done in my life and it was until now. But it’s all worth it.
"We’ve worked hard all winter, we’ve done three sessions a day, seven days a week in all sorts of weather and we won that medal in the winter. I can’t remember the race, I’ve never pushed so hard in my life.
"When you thought you couldn’t go any more, my body shut down in that last 250 and I just heard the crowd cheer us on and that made us raise our game."
However, there was disappointment for mixed doubles sculls crew Nicholas Beighton and Samantha Scowen, who finished fourth, and defending singles sculls champion Tom Aggar.
Aggar has won the last three world titles in addition to his Beijing success but finished fourth as China's Cheng Huang took gold in a new world record.
"I’m devastated but I couldn’t have done anymore," said Aggar.
"It’s probably the best run-in I’ve had, obviously there was expectation and pressure, but I came in feeling really confident but it was a tough race and I didn’t get the result.
"I knew the Chinese guy would be strong, I knew it would be tough but I just didn’t have it in the tank.
"It’s been such an intense preparation, especially in the last 12 months where I’ve spent so much time away from my family and friends and focused everything on this so it will be good to have a break and hit it hard for next year."