Orphaned on his ninth birthday, Naismith finds life on his uncle’s farm challenging. He is taught how to swim by being tossed into the river, left to discover the meaning of survival instincts. Jealous of the other kids skating on the frozen lake, Naismith spends an evening in the barn building his own pair of skates using old files set firmly into strips of hickory wood. He would later fall through the same
ice, attempting to cross it by horse and sled, and nearly drowns. After emerging from the icy water, one by one, he rescues the horses. Before passing out on the frozen river bank, he notices his uncle in the distance has witnessed the entire ordeal.

Naismith quits school and turns to a life of drinking, cursing, and fighting. At rock-bottom, he makes a promise to his parents to never disrespect their memory again, prompting a lifelong quest to make the world a better place. He returns to high school as a 21-year-old freshman determined to finish what he started. Naismith went on to collect 11 academic degrees from the diverse fields of philosophy, religion, physical education and medicine, including a degree in theology and a doctorate in medicine even though he never held a pastorate or worked as a doctor. He also learned French, Hebrew, Greek and Latin.