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9 People Who Knew They Could Do It

The wonderful response and suggested additions to the post 9 People Who Did It Anyway led me to explore more people who could've taken the easy way out due to disabilities, but instead followed their passions.

The Teenage Amputee Explorer

Janek Mela is a double amputee from Gdansk, Poland who became the youngest person to reach the North Pole, and then the South Pole. Born in 1988, Mela was 13 years old when he was electrocuted in a transformer building. His left arm and right leg were so damaged they had to be amputated. In April of 2004, Mela accompanied polar explorer Marek Kamiński on a 70 kilometer walk from Spitsbergen, Norway to the North Pole. On December 31st of the same year, the two reached the South Pole. Mela had turned 16 years old the day before. See photos of the expeditions at Kamiński's website.

Major League Southpaw

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Jim Abbott was born in Michigan in 1967 without a right hand, but he played professional baseball for ten years. Abbott was a star pitcher in high school and led the football team to a state championship as quarterback. He was drafted by the major leagues in 1985, but elected to go to college instead. At the University of Michigan, he won the Sullivan Award for the best amateur athlete (in any sport) in 1987. Abbott pitched for the US team in the 1988 Olympics, winning a gold medal. As a pro, he played for the California Angels, the Chicago White Sox, and the New York Yankees. Abbott was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. He is now a motivational speaker.

Legs on Everest

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Mark Inglis was a search and rescue officer for the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand. In 1982, he and a partner were stuck in an ice cave for 13 days during a blizzard. After rescue, his badly frostbitten legs were amputated. Inglis eventually returned to mountain climbing, and in May of 2006 was the first double amputee to climb to the peak of Mount Everest. Inglis' Everest expedition helped to support The Cambodian Trust, an organization to help the polio and landmine victims of Cambodia. He and his wife Anne later founded Limbs 4 All to help amputees worldwide.

One-Armed Guitar Idol

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Mark Playle of the band Minnikin is a guitar player who made it to the finals of the Guitar Idol contest earlier this year in London. Playle was born without a lower left arm. Watch a video of Playle playing.

The Blind Governor

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David Paterson is legally blind due to an infection in infancy, although he has some limited vision in his right eye. His parents insisted he be mainstreamed with sighted students, and even moved to a new school district for the opportunity. He graduated from high school in three years, then went on to complete law school in 1983. Only two years later, Paterson was elected to the New York state senate. In 2006, he was elected New York's first African-American lieutenant governor, then became governor upon Eliot Spitzer's resignation earlier this year. Paterson is an athlete, too -he ran the New York Marathon in 1999, and is on the board of the Achilles Track Club, an organization devoted to mainstream sports participation for the disabled.

Climb Every Mountain

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Australian activist and adventurer Warren McDonald was climbing a mountain in 1997 when a large boulder pinned him down. It took two days for a rescue helicopter to reach him, and both legs had to be amputated at mid-thigh. Only ten months later, he was climbing mountains again! Since then, he's climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, El Capitan, and the frozen waterfall known as the Weeping Wall in Alberta, Canada. McDonald wrote a book about his experiences, entitled A Test of Will. He makes his living as a motivational speaker.

Gyspy Music on Two Fingers

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Django Reinhardt was a reknowned jazz guitarist from Belgium. Born in 1910, he was raised in a gypsy camp and played guitar, banjo, and violin beginning in childhood. When he was 18 years old, a fire damaged the third and fourth fingers of his left hand. His leg was hurt so badly that doctors wanted to amputate, but Reinhardt refused, and walked again within a year. His fingers remained paralyzed, so his guitar solos were played with only two fingers. He could still use the paralyzed fingers for chords. Reinhardt recorded eighteen albums and toured Europe and America with various bands until he retired in 1951.

Quadriplegic Sailor

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36-year-old Hilary Lister is paralyzed from the neck down, but that hasn't stopped her from participating in her love of sailing. In 2005, she became the first quadriplegic sailor to cross the English Channel. Her next goal is to sail around Britain solo, using her breath to pilot a 20-foot boat. She began her trip on June 16th from Dover aboard the Artemus 20. In a series of day sails, the journey will take several months. You can follow her progress on her website. Lister became paralyzed seven years ago due to reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a progressive degenerative disease.

The Sound of One Arm Drumming

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Drummer Rick Allen was only 15 years old when he joined the British band Def Leppard in 1978. By 1984, the group was playing huge tours and selling tons of albums. On New Years Eve, Allen's Corvette crashed into a stone wall in Sheffield and he lost his left arm. The other band members never considered replacing him. The Simmons electronic drum company worked with Allen to develop a custom drum kit he could play with two feet and one arm. He returned to the stage with Def Leppard in 1986. Allen and his wife Lauren Munroe founded Raven Drum, a charitable organization with a mission to "educate, support and empower veterans and all trauma survivors."

See also: 9 People Who Did It Anyway and Swimming Without Legs

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Gettu Images
9 People Who Just Did It Anyway
Gettu Images
Gettu Images

This week’s mental_floss video entitled 18 Famous People Who Are Missing Body Parts reminded me that April is Limb Loss Awareness Month. You may be aware that we have a continuing series about people who are technically classified as “disabled,” but don’t let it get in the way of doing as they please. While it’s still April, let’s meet some other people who are excelling in areas they weren’t supposed to because of lost limbs or other anomalies.

1. Baxter Humby

Getty Images

Baxter Humby, nicknamed “One Arm Bandit,” is an MMA fighter and Muay Thai Kickboxer. He is currently the IMTC World Super Welterweight Champion. Shortly after birth, Humby’s right hand and most of his forearm was amputated due to injury from a tangled umbilical cord. He started running at a young age, made the Canadian National Paralympic Track Team, and participated in the Paralympics in 1992 and 1994. He took up martial arts at 17.

In addition to holding various martial arts championships, Humby teaches at both a martial arts school and his local YMCA, and finds time for motivational speaking as well. Humby also has his hand in show business: he starred in the Chinese film One Arm Hero, appeared on the TV show The Shield, and worked as a stunt man on the film Spider-Man 3.

2. Randy Pierce

Randy Pierce grew up in New Hampshire, a fan of sports, nature, and the New England Patriots. At age 22, his vision began to fail due to a neurological disorder. Eventually he went blind, and twelve years later, the disorder confined him to a wheelchair. Pierce was determined to regain his mobility, and worked for two years to leave the wheelchair. When he succeeded, Pierce and his guide dog Quinn climbed all 48 of the 4000+ foot peaks in the New Hampshire White Mountains! Pierce founded the organization 2020 Vision Quest, in order to funnel the funds he raised through mountain climbing to charities for the blind.

3. Lee Reid

Illustration by Joshua Drummond.

Lee Reid is a musician and composer who has a Master’s in Neuroscience from the University of Auckland. Ironically, as an adult he was stricken with a mysterious and painful neurological disorder that affected his hands. Reid could no longer work, nor could he play music. He still wanted to compose, but even with computer software, he couldn’t use his hands to control what he wrote. Reid came to the conclusion that he would have to design his own software. He read up on programming, and, using a mouse with his foot, created a composing program one character at a time. It took a year, and the result is Musink, a program in which you can write music notation with only a mouse, available free to download.

Two years after Reid lost the use of his hands, an experimental treatment restored enough function for him to return to neuroscience for a living, although he still suffers with pain. You can read an illustrated version of his story at Cakeburger

4. Nico Calabria

Nineteen-year-old Nicolai Calabria graduated from high school as an all-around athlete. He was co-captain of the wrestling team, midfielder for the soccer team, and hiked to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. He’s now working as a gymnastic instructor and a motivational speaker. All this, despite the fact that he was born without his left leg and hip. This fall, Calabria will travel with the US National Amputee Soccer Team to the 2014 Amputee World Cup in Mexico. He will also begin his college career at Colorado College. That’s a pretty good resume for a 19-year-old! See Calabria in action on video

5. Jahmir Wallace

Jahmir Wallace of Phillipsburg, New Jersey, was born without arms, so he does everything with his feet. The dexterity the fifth-grader developed with his toes is serving him well as he learns to play the trumpet. But even more important is Wallace’s can-do attitude.

“My older sister used to play the piano. So I thought maybe I should try an instrument. I thought maybe I could try and figure out new things,” he said.

6. Barney Miller

Photograph from No Means Go.

Barney Miller is an Australian surfer who was severely injured in a traffic accident 15 years ago. With his neck broken, he was told he’d never breathe on his own again, much less walk. With determination and hard work, he took his first steps with a walker last year. He is also in the water constantly, surfing with friends despite his lack of movement. Miller is the subject of a documentary called No Means Go which is in production now. 

7. Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham

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In 2010, hardcore sitter (extreme wheelchair athlete) Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham became the first person to successfully execute a double backflip in a wheelchair. Seeing just a part of what he went through to perfect the stunt will make you cringe, but it paid off. Born with spina bifida, Fotherington was also the first athlete to perform a single backflip in a wheelchair when he was only 14 years old! From his biography

After posting that “first ever back flip” on the Internet, life has changed for Aaron; he has had the opportunity to travel within the US, as well as internationally, performing and speaking in front of many. He has attended summer camps for disabled children as a coach/mentor. He has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and sports television. He receives and responds to e-mails from all over the world.

Aaron enjoys showing young kids with disabilities that a wheelchair can be a toy, not a restriction. He loves helping younger children learn how to handle their chairs in new and different ways and teaching them a trick or two.

Someday he hopes to design “the most wicked” chair in the world.

See a more recent video of Fotheringham showing off here.

8. Annette Gabbedey

British goldsmith Annette Gabbedey has been crafting custom jewelry and setting precious gems for 24 years, despite the fact that she was born without fingers. The "about" page at her business site doesn't even mention the lack of fingers, but as you can see from the picture, she doesn't hide it.

Gabbedey doesn't consider herself disabled, just different. She doesn't use special tools, but has her own method of using regular jeweler's tools, like setting the piece she's working on in a vice, and keeping a strap around her wrist to set a tool into. Gabbedey says fingers would just get in her way! See more pictures here.

9. Jorge Dyksen

Photograph from Twitter.

Jorge Dyksen is a 16-year-old high school soccer player, despite the fact that both his arms and both his legs were amputated due to a massive infection when he was a toddler. Adopted from Panama, he now lives in Haledon, New Jersey. He is the starting forward on the junior varsity team at Manchester Regional High School. See a video of Jorge in action.

See more stories of people with amazing accomplishments in previous posts of this continuing series.

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Raising Mercury
Four Cats With Fewer Than Three Legs
Raising Mercury
Raising Mercury

We often read stories about the amazing adaptability of animals. They endure pain, but they do not wallow in self-pity. A disabled animal will do what it must do to get on with life using what it has. A four-legged animal can get around pretty well on three legs, as I learned when our border collie lost one. In these stories, four cats learned to get around pretty well with even less than three. I should say fewer than three, but you know what less than three means: <3.

1. Mercury: Two Rear Legs

Meet Mercury, the kitten that gets around on his two rear legs, like a T. rex. He was found in September, when he was only about four days old, having already lost his two front forelegs and most of the toes on one back leg. Neighbors suspected it was due to a weed whacker. After veterinary care, he was placed with an Oklahoma foster family even before his eyes opened. Mercury learned to get around on two legs as he first learned to walk, and now he runs, jumps, climbs stairs, and holds his own with the other cats. His foster family decided to make him a permanent member of the family.

Photograph from Raising Mercury.

Here’s a video that shows how he moves around on two legs. You can see more pictures and videos at Mercury’s Facebook page.

2. Anakin: Two Front Legs

Photograph by Carrie Hawks via Facebook.

Anakin was born with neither a pelvic bone nor his rear legs. Artist Carrie Hawks adopted him as a young kitten from a feral colony of cats. He was named after the character who became Darth Vader, who was also missing some limbs. Ani learned to walk balancing on his front limbs only. The Hawks considered wheels for his back end, but since the kitten got around well enough without them, he does not use wheels. Besides, that would hinder him from climbing stairs or cat towers, which you can see him do here. If he needs wheels as he gets older, he will have them. This video was recorded in the summer of 2012, when Anakin was first settling into his new home.

Anakin had a few medical interventions due to his abnormalities. He lives with several other cats and a dog, and gets plenty of human interaction. The rest of Anakin’s feral family was captured, fixed, and vaccinated, and then relocated to a private woodland where they are fed regularly. You can follow Anakin, now full grown, at his Facebook page

3. Caffrey: Two Legs on One Side

Caffrey, a Persian cat in England, has had to adapt to losing a leg twice in his life. At age three, he was struck by a car and his left hind leg had to be amputated. His front left paw was damaged, too. He adapted to walking on three legs for the next ten years. Then about a year ago, Caffrey developed a tumor in his left front leg, where he was injured in the earlier accident. The best hope for his survival was amputation, but veterinarians thought he’d never be able to get around on just two legs on the same side. Caffrey’s owner Sue Greaves knew it was Caffrey’s best chance for survival, so the operation was carried out, leaving Caffrey with only his two right legs. The old cat surprised everyone by walking around on two legs only a few days after the second amputation! See how well Caffrey moves about in this video. 

Caffrey inspired WeiChang Chiu to create a short animation called Caffrey’s Run.

4. Callie Mae: No Paws At All

In 2008, an adult cat named Callie Mae was chased up a telephone pole by dogs. At the top, she was electrocuted, which did so much damage to her legs that they all had to be amputated above the knee joint. The Theodore Vet Clinic in Mobile, Alabama, cared for Callie Mae, who learned to walk on her stumps. By 2010, she was pronounced well enough to go to a permanent home

After the story ran in the local news, many people applied to adopt Callie Mae. There has been no news about her since then, but we assume that she found a home with one of the applicants.

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