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9 People Who Refused to be Limited

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It's part of human nature to test one's limits, even for those who have extraordinary limitations. All over the world there are people with disabilities who work to do exactly what they are not supposed to be able to do. This is the fourth article in a series about people who set their goals and achieved them despite disabilities.

Amputee Wrestler

Kyle Maynard was born missing the biggest parts of his arms and legs due to congental amputation, a condition in which the limbs are constricted and die due to lack of oxygen in utero. Yet he became a grade school football player and then a wrestler. Maynard's high school record in wrestling was 35 wins and 16 losses. He now wrestles for  the University of Georgia, where he is majoring in broadcast news. Maynard won an ESPY Award in 2004 for the Best Athlete With A Disability. See him in action in this video, and watch as Maynard talks about his life. His autobiography is called No Excuses: The True Story of a Congenital Amputee Who Became a Champion in Wrestling and in Life.

Painting from the Imagination


Turkish artist Esref Armagan was born blind, and has never seen any of the things he paints. He received no formal training or even encouragement, but developed his own unique techniques. Armagan paints with his fingers, using mostly oil paint, one color at a time. Each color is left to dry completely before he moves on to the next. See a video report on Armagan.

Man in Motion


Rick Hansen participated in several different sports before a 1973 traffic accident in which he was thrown from the back of a truck left him a paraplegic. He was 15 years old at the time. He returned to sports after rehabilitation and went on to lead his wheelchair basketball team, the Vancouver Cablecars, to six Canadian national championships. Hansen also became the first disabled person to graduate with a degree in physical education from the University of British Columbia. He then turned his focus from basketball to to marathons. He won wheelchair marathon medals at the 1980 and 1984 Paralympics, the 1982 Pan Am Games, and several world championships. But his biggest marathon was not a competition. Hansen wheeled himself around the world from in the Man in Motion World Tour to raise funds for spinal cord injury research and to advocate for accessibility. The trip took over two years and raised $26 million dollars. To continue his advocacy, he founded the Rick Hansen Foundation to improve the quality of life for victims of spinal cord injuries.

Autistic Orator


The story of Jason McElwain appears to be about sports, but his achievements go way beyond basketball. McElwain gained fame in 2006 when his coach put the autistic team manager in the last game of the year as a player. He scored 20 points and became a local hero and nationwide sensation. McElwain's ongoing achievements are his numerous public appearances and speaking engagements aimed at bringing recognition to autism -exactly the kind of thing that is so difficult for someone with autism.

The Comeback Kid


Italian racer Alex Zanardi made careers in both CART and Formula One racing. In September of 2001, he was leading a race when a near-fatal accident caused him to lose both legs above the knee. Rather than retire, Zanardi designed his own prosthetic legs. By 2003 he was racing again with a car modified with a hand-controlled accelerator and brakes, and was racing full time again by 2005. The story is told in his autobiography Alex Zanardi: My Sweetest Victory : A Memoir of Racing Success, Adversity, and Courage.

Blind Skateboarder


High school student Tommy Carroll was born with bilateral retinoblastoma. His eyes were removed when he was two years old. He competes on his school's cross-country team, running while holding the arm of a teammate. Swimming, wrestling, and skiing are some of his other activities. Carroll is a skateboarding whiz, too! He negotiates skate parks by staying in tune with the sound and feel of the skateboard against the pavement. See Carroll in action in this video. Oh yeah, he's an honor student, too.

One-armed Table Tennis


Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka was one of only two amputees who competed in the Olympic games in Beijing last month (the other was swimmer Natalie DuToit). Born in 1989 without a right hand or forearm, she competed in the 2000 and 2004 Paralympics, winning a gold and silver medal in 2004. Partyka has won many international competitions for disabled players, plus two gold medals at the European Championships for Cadets in 2004 -a tournament for able-bodied players. She returns to beijing to compete in the 2008 Paralympics this week.

Iron Woman


Kelly Bruno was born with a birth defect affecting her right leg, which was amputated when she was six months old. With a prosthetic leg, she began walking as the same age as other children, and began running track events in the eighth grade. Bruno began competing in triathlons as a student at Duke University, including Iron Man events. She graduated this past spring and plans to attend medical school. Bruno recently worked as a ball girl at the US Open in order to bring publicity to disabled athletes. Her autobiography is called Challenged on Both Sides of the Finish Line. You can follow her activities on her blog.

Marathoner of Hope


Terry Fox was diagnosed with bone cancer as a teenager. His right leg was amputated in 1977. During his treatment, Fox was touched by the plight of other cancer patients, especially children, and wanted to help them somehow. He decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. After 18 months of training, he began his Marathon of Hope in Newfoundland on April 12th, 1980. He ran 26 miles a day on his prosthetic leg, raising awareness and donations as he went. Fox ran for 143 days and over 3,000 miles (5,373 kilometers) when he was forced to stop because the cancer had recurred. By then he had become famous for his attempt, and Canadians were stunned to see him stop running. Terry Fox died in 1981 at age 22. But his fund raising efforts were not in vain, as the Terry Fox Foundation was organized in his honor to raise money for the National Cancer Institute of Canada. The annual Terry Fox Run is held in locations all over the world to continue his legacy of running to benefit cancer research. This year's event will be on Sunday, September 14th.

Previous articles in this series are 9 People Who Did It Anyway, 9 People Who Knew They Could Do It, and Swimming Without Legs. This article brings the total to 30 people.

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Gettu Images
9 People Who Just Did It Anyway
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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

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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
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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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