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8 Amazingly Abled Athletes and Artists

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A few people who are missing a limb, or one of the senses, or have some other physical anomaly are notable for achievements in the very area in which they were supposedly restricted. Usually this has little to do with proving something to the world, and is often a case of someone beginning or continuing an activity they truly love and enjoy. They just don't see any reason not to. However, such unique achievements are likely to make the news. A couple of years ago I wrote a series of posts about people some would consider disabled, but who are noted for surprising pursuits. Since then, I've encountered more inspiring stories for you.

1. Adam Bender

Adam Bender of Lexington, Kentucky was born with a tumor in his leg, which was amputated when he was one year old. Bender plays soccer and football, but his favorite sport is baseball. He tried using a prosthetic leg, but decided it slowed him down. Bender uses crutches to run the bases. His family was inspired to create the Adam Bender Foundation to encourage physically challenged children and cancer survivors to participate in mainstream team sports. See Bender in action in this video.

2. Alistair Hodgson

British soldier Alistair Hodgson was 21 years old and a member of the elite Parachute Regiment when he encountered a bomb in Northern Ireland. The blast destroyed his legs and left him severely wounded. That was 17 years ago. Now Hodgson is the British National Freestyle Skydiving ­Champion. Besides training in his sport and coaching other skydivers, Hodgson works to inspire other disabled vets returning from Afghanistan. Hodgson will compete against able-bodied skydivers for the world championship in August.

3. Lance Blair

In 1988, 18-year-old Lance Blair lost his lower left leg in a horrific vehicle crash.  He was expected to die from his injuries, but instead spent two months in intensive care and six months in therapy. With a prosthetic leg (actually a series of legs as he wore them out), Blair set out on adventures: hiking the Andes, plunging into the jungle, and extensive world travel. He saw constant obstacles that kept other disabled persons from enjoying the life he did, so he founded the organization Disabled Explorers. Blair invested heavily in converted vehicles and specialized equipment and funds excursions into the wilderness for returning amputee and paraplegic soldiers and others who want the opportunity to explore the world -and have fun.

4. Bill Clements

Bill Clements of Kalamazoo, Michigan began playing bass guitar when he was 13. When an industrial accident severed his right hand and forearm in 1989, he didn't consider giving up his passion. Clements developed his own technique for playing bass with a prosthetic. You can hear some of his music on YouTube.

5. Og De Souza

Brazilian Og De Souza didn't set out to become a professional skateboarder. His legs stopped developing when he was young, and he used a skateboard to get around in lieu of a wheelchair. However, with practice he perfected routines and stunts until he became a sensation in skateboarding circles. See him in action in several YouTube videos.

6. Sheila Radziewicz

Sheila Radziewicz was born with thrombocytopenia-absent radius (TAR) syndrome. She lacks arm bones but has hands, and her legs were missing kneecaps. Years of leg braces and several rounds of surgery enabled her to walk. Radziewicz, now 32 years old, has been taking martial arts classes for three years. This month she will test for a black belt in Taikwando, despite having no arms. Radziewicz also works as an advocate for domestic violence victims.

7. Sean Swarner

Sean Swarner is a cancer survivor who climbed the peak of Mt. Everest. When he was 13 years old, Swarner was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. At 16, he was stricken with Askin's sarcoma, a completely separate variety of cancer. Swarner was near death when doctors removed a tumor and a large part of one lung. His restricted lung capacity made the Everest expedition all the more remarkable. He reached the summit on May 16, 2002. Swarner and his brother Seth founded the Cancer Climber organization to inspire cancer patients and encourage survivors to take up climbing and other outdoor activities.

8. Nick Gatto

Nick Gatto is a professional football player who has only half a right arm. His upper arm stopped developing before birth. In high school. Gatto participated in baseball, basketball, football, track, and every other sport offered. He kicked for Blinn Junior College and for Arkansas State University. Gatto joined the Arena Football League in 2002 where he kicked and played defense for various franchises through 2009. He founded a kicking and punting school for all ages in Houston, where he coaches.

For more stories, see the five previous articles on this subject:

9 People Who Did It Anyway

9 People Who Knew They Could Do It

9 People Who Refused to be Limited

Swimming Without Legs: 3 Inspiring Athletes

Dancing on Crutches

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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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