For most of us, using crutches to get around would be an excuse to sit on the side of the dance floor. A select few take those crutches and outshine everyone around them. Here are the stories of four men who have two things in common: they use a crutch or two, and they are very, very good dancers.
Luca "Lazylegz" Patuelli
BBoy Luca "Lazylegz" Patuelli was born in Montreal, Quebec with arthrogryposis, a muscle disorder that only affects his legs. He grew up in Bethesda, Maryland and began competing in hip hop dance competitions when he was fifteen years old. Patuelli has performed onstage with Kanye West and other well-known musicians and dancers. In addition to dancing on crutches, he also breakdances on his extremely strong arms. Patuelli recently graduated from Concordia University with a degree in marketing. In addition to his studies and dancing in competitions and exhibitions, he mentors young dancers and does motivational speaking at schools. See Patuelli in a breakdance battle with Petit Freez, an amputee dancer also on crutches.
Ma Li was 19 years old and already a professional ballerina in China when she lost her right arm in a traffic accident in 1996. She went through a depression and attempted suicide, but her parents' support changed her outlook. Ma opened a bookstore to support herself. In 2001, She was invited to take part in a performing arts showcase for the disabled, and the love of dance returned to her.
Zhai Xiaowei was only four years old when his left leg had to be amputated after a tractor accident. He grew up participating in all kinds of sports anyway, and was training for the cycling events of the disabled Olympics in China when he met Ma Li in 2005. He'd never even considered ballet before Ma recruited him to dance with her. Zhai moved in with Ma and her manager/boyfriend and trained 12-16 hours a day. The hard work paid off when the two entered the CCTV national dance competition in 2007. They were the only disabled act in the competition, but they won the silver medal and placed first in the audience voting. See their performance of Hand in Hand on video.
Reynaldo Ojeda is a salsa dancer from Bogota, Colombia. He was born with only one leg, but with the support of his family, was active in all kinds of sports as he was growing up. He began dancing as an adult, and now teaches salsa dancing on weekends and hopes to compete in worldwide salsa competitions. See a video of Ojeda dancing with Claudia Lopez.
Bill "Crutch Master" Shannon has bilateral hip displacement, arising from Legg Calve Perthes syndrome. The result is that his legs work, but can't support his weight properly, so he supports himself with crutches -in more ways than one. Shannon's balance on crutches led to dance, which led to hip hop dancing with crutches as works of art, as you can see in this video. Shannon is an award-winning artist, dancer, and choreographer.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.