8 People With "Real" Superpowers

iStock / LightFieldStudios
iStock / LightFieldStudios

We all dream of having some superpower to help navigate life. For instance, I've always wanted to be able to read peoples' minds. To me, that would be the most awesome of any power one could posses. (Okay, maybe I'm suspicious and neurotic, but hey, everyone also has his kryptonite, right?)

Here are eight people who posses some major superpowers. Please note: we're having some fun here in this post. We don't claim that any of these abilities are actually "superpowers" as we've grown used to defining them. When you're done reading, drop a line in the comment and tell us what superpower you wish you had.

1. Super Baby

In 1999, a baby was born in Germany that wowed nurses and doctors. Instead of the usual mushy baby fat, Uberboy, as he's come to be called, sported ripped muscles. The tot's amazing physique was caused by a genetic disorder that eliminates the myostatin gene, which limits muscle development. The boy's identity has been closely guarded, however there are reports that at five years old, he could hold 7 lbs in each hand with his arms outstretched—a feat reportedly difficult for the average adult. Other members of his family also are known to exhibit excessive strength, including his grandfather who is said to be able to lift 330 lbs paving stones single handedly.

Uberboy's prognosis is unknown and his condition continues to be monitored. It is unclear if this genetic alteration will cause his muscle development to be completely depleted at a young age or not. Scientists are hoping that by studying Uberboy's muscle development and the genes that cause it, they will find therapies to help patients with muscular dystrophy—a super commendable mission.

2. The Iceman

Running shirtless and shoeless may not seem like a super human power, until you consider that Wim Hof ran a half marathon 200 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle where the temperature is nearly -20 degrees and the run took 5 hours and 25 minutes! At one point, the attending physician on the run warned Hof not to continue because she couldn't guarantee that his toes would survive. (They did.) The Iceman practices Tummo, a way of controlling the body's temperature that is usually only mastered by Tibetan Yogi Monks. To add to his records and feats, Hof has climbed Kilamanjaro in 2 days wearing nothing but his signature black shorts. He also broke his own record of the longest ice bath by staying submerged in ice for 1 hour 13 minutes and 48 seconds. Talk about, er, cool! In 2007, he attempted to climb Mount Everest wearing only the shorts, but failed. Not because he was too cold, however, rather because he injured his foot.

3. The Real Aquaman

New Zealander Dave Mullins is capable of swimming underwater for not only record amount of time, but also record distance. In September 2007, Mullins shattered his own record when he swam underwater for 4 minutes 2 seconds, swimming a total distance of 244 meters with a single breath. Mullins, whose specialty is free diving, set a New Zealand record in April 2008 when he dove 108 meters with no oxygen tank or specialized equipment. He's only the fifth man in New Zealand to reach a depth of 100 meters. Mullins trains his muscles to work while deprived of oxygen. This allows him to swim further and longer, but also leads to a build-up of lactic acid in his leg muscles. After a record breaking swim, Mullins requires a few days of recovery, but he's
still pretty super.

4. Super Audiation Boy

Blinded by cancer as a toddler, Ben Underwood developed the ability to "see" using echolocation. By clicking his tongue, Underwood read the sound waves that bounce off of objects around him. He not only could use these reading to navigate around the objects, but could also identify what he was "seeing." This ability allowed him to function like any other teenager. In fact, the only difference between him and his classmates during his freshman year, was that he took his notes in Braille. Underwood taught himself to roller blade, skateboard, and participate in martial arts, all using echolocation. Sadly, the cancer that claimed his eyesight, took his life in January 2009 at the age of 16. Perhaps his greatest super power was taking lemons and making some really rocking lemonade.

5. Incrediboy Wonder

At 6 ft, 280 lbs, Chris Morgan is a formidable teenager who was chosen as Britain's Strongest Schoolboy in 2009. He is able to lift a Ford Fiesta, weighing in at almost a ton. Morgan consumes 5,000 calories a day and works out at least 5 times a week. Weighing only 5 lbs 5 oz at birth, he grew up watching the World's Strongest Man competition each Christmas and aspired to win it himself. Morgan helps out around the house by lifting furniture as his mother vacuums. He credits his amazing strength to his strict regimen of exercise.

6. Zamora

Tim Cridland, better known as Zamora, has been a sideshow phenomenon for decades, able to perform such tortuous tasks as skewering his lower jaw with a sharp rod by sticking it in his mouth and out below his chin. He's also able to cut into his torso to retrieve recently swallowed items. He insists that he's able to perform these tasks through a Zen-like approach that allows him to transcend pain. However, many in the medical community believe that Cridland was born with a genetic alteration that causes him to experience no pain. What's more unbelievable is that he performs these gruesome tricks regularly on tours, day after day, month after month. Talk about super-human stamina.

7. X-ray Vision Girl

Natasha Demkina developed an interesting hobby when she was 10 years old. She found that she could scan her mother's body and describe in intimate detail the location and condition of all of her mom's organs. News soon spread and her neighbors in her hometown of Saransk, in Western Russia, began showing up at her doorstep for body scans and diagnoses. The local children's hospital decided to test her abilities and the girl was able to draw a diagram of one doctor's stomach with a dark area in the exact spot of his ulcer. She also contested the cancer diagnosis of one patient; later tests supported Demkina's diagnosis of a benign cyst. In England, "x-ray" scans of another doctor led Demkina to describe multiple injuries that one of the doctors had received in a severe car crash without any knowledge of the accident, and the doctor was fully clothed! Obviously Natasha's abilities have been questioned. We put this on the list because it's fun, like all the others. To read some of the debunking, check out this post here on LiveScience.

8. Super Healer

In Abadiânia, Brazil, there lives and works a man who appears to have the power to perform invisible surgeries with his hands. My brother has actually made the trip to Brazil to meet this man, known as John of God (born João de Teixeira de Faria in 1942). At 16, while wandering from village to village looking for work, Joao had a vision to go to a local church. It is said that he performed healing miracles there. Although he says he has no memory of this, it established him as a world-class healer. Today, thousands of people visit John of God daily for healing. He performs visible surgeries without any anesthesia (my brother says people have witnessed him sticking his hand in a man's stomach and pulling out a tumor) and also invisible surgeries by laying on hands and also from afar. According to supporters of John, visible sutures have been seen on body scans of those who have undergone invisible surgeries. Again, this one made the list because of all the attention John of God has received (including his own 20/20 segment). My brother was not cured of his ailment, and came home saying he was highly skeptical, as are many people, and that John was nothing but a magician. But he also said that for those who've been healed, John of God's superpowers should not be underestimated. Here's a good post debunking John of God.

14 Things You Might Not Have Known About James K. Polk

Matthew Brady/Getty Images
Matthew Brady/Getty Images

James K. Polk may have served just one term, but he was one of history’s most consequential U.S. presidents. Polish up on Young Hickory, America's 11th Commander in Chief.

1. James K. Polk had surgery to remove urinary bladder stones when he was 16.

Born on November 2, 1795, James Knox Polk was the oldest of 10 children born to Samuel Polk, a farmer and surveyor, and his wife, Jane. When James was 10, the family moved to Tennessee and settled on a farm in Maury County. As a child, James was too ill to attend formal school; just before he turned 17, he had urinary bladder stones surgically removed by Ephraim McDowell, a prominent Kentucky surgeon. Anesthesia wasn’t available at that time, so the future president reportedly dulled the pain with brandy. The surgery allowed the formerly ill Polk to attend formal schooling for the first time. He entered the University of North Carolina as a sophomore after just 2.5 years of formal schooling. According to Britannica, "as a graduating senior in 1818 he was the Latin salutatorian of his class—a preeminent scholar in both the classics and mathematics." After graduation, he returned to Tennessee to study law and eventually opened up his own practice.

2. James K. Polk won a seat on the Tennessee Legislature at 27, and the U.S. House of Representatives at 29.

During his time in the state legislature, he met—and befriended—future president Andrew Jackson. He also began courting his future wife, Sarah Childress. The daughter of a prominent planter, she had been educated at the prestigious Moravian Female Academy in Salem, North Carolina, and was an eager and active participant in his political campaigns. Polk and Sarah married in 1824. In 1825, Polk was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; he was speaker of the House from 1835 until he left in 1839 to become governor of Tennessee.

3. James K. Polk's nomination for president surprised everyone—including himself.

Months before the democratic national convention of 1844, Polk was at a low point. He had just lost his bid to be re-elected governor of Tennessee (he had been voted out of office in 1841 and tried—and failed—to be elected again in 1843). But when the delegates at the convention couldn’t agree on a nominee—the party was deadlocked between Martin Van Buren and Lewis Cass—they eventually decided to compromise by picking a “dark horse” candidate: Polk.

4. Everyone thought James K. Polk would lose his bid for the presidency.

Despite being a seven-time congressman, a former Speaker of the House, and an ex-governor, Polk was a relative nobody. His opponent Henry Clay lamented that Democrats had failed to choose someone “more worthy of a contest.” Despite the doubts, Polk won the popular vote by nearly 40,000 and the Electoral College 170-105.

5. During James K. Polk's White House "office hours," any American could stop by.

During Polk’s day, anybody was permitted to visit the White House for “office hours.” For two days every week, concerned citizens and lobbyists could drop by to vouch for a cause or ask for political favors. “Job seekers were the worst, in Polk’s view, and he found their incessant interruptions far more annoying than his Whig opponents in Congress,” writes Walter R. Borneman in his book Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America.

6. James K. Polk was remarkably boring.

Polk had as much charisma as a puddle of mud. He was straight-laced, somber, and humorless. As Speaker, an editor in Washington called him the "most unpretending man, for his talents, this, or perhaps any country, has ever seen." Some attributed Polk’s boringness to his refusal to drink socially. The politician Sam Houston supposedly called him “a victim of the use of water as a beverage.” (Sarah banned hard liquor—and dancing—from the White House.)

7. James K. Polk worked 12 hour days and didn't take much time off from the presidency.

Polk regularly spent 12 hours a day at the office. He rarely left Washington, took advice, or delegated. When he wanted to lobby for policy, he’d visit Congress and do it himself. Over the course of his single term, Polk took a total of just 27 days off. “No President who performs his duty faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure,” Polk wrote.

8. James K. Polk acquired America's first patch of Pacific coastline.

In the early 19th century, the Pacific Northwest was jointly occupied by British and American settlers. But as the century progressed, Americans began to outnumber the British, and they increasingly felt like the rightful owners of the “Oregon Country.” Thankfully, neither country was interested in battling over the land. In 1846, Polk and the British drew a border at the 49th parallel (with some adjustment for Vancouver Island)—what is now Washington State’s boundary with Canada. With that, the United States obtained its first uncontested patch of Pacific coastline.

9. James K. Polk waged a controversial—and consequential—war with Mexico.

In the 1840s, Mexico’s border encompassed California, the American southwest, and even parts of Colorado and Wyoming. Polk wanted this land. In 1845, he offered to buy some disputed territory near the Texas-Mexico border, as well as land in California; when Mexico refused, Polk sent troops into the disputed territory. Mexico retaliated. Polk then requested Congress to declare war. His critics (including a young Abraham Lincoln) complained that Polk had deliberately provoked Mexico. Whatever Polk’s motivations, the United States lost 13,000 men and approximately $100 million in the ensuing war—but succeeded in taking one-third of Mexico’s land.

10. James K. Polk is the reason the United States stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

In the course of just one term, Polk oversaw one of the greatest territorial expansions of any president—an increase of 1.2 million square miles. His administration extended the United States boundary to the Pacific Ocean and laid the groundwork for states such as California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Montana.

11. James K. Polk's ambivalence toward the issue of slavery may have sparked the Civil War.

When Polk’s administration began pushing westward, debate raged over how these new territories could alter the power balance between free and slave states. Polk, who considered slavery a side issue, refused to give the rancor much time or attention. (No doubt because of his own relationship with slavery. He owned more than 20 enslaved people and brought them to the White House.) Polk’s ambivalence helped sow so much discord that historians now consider his rapid expansion westward as the first steps toward the Civil War.

12. James K. Polk signed bills that reshaped Washington, D.C.

Polk accomplished a lot in just four years. During his tenure, he signed the Smithsonian Institution into law. He was instrumental to the construction of the Washington Monument and helped establish the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He also re-established an independent U.S. Treasury, which was partly intended to reduce the role of speculation in the economy.

13. James K. Polk's administration introduced Americans to the postage stamp.

One of Polk’s unofficial campaign managers was a Nosferatu-lookalike named Cave Johnson, who Polk rewarded with a job as Postmaster General. It was a tough gig. The post office’s budget was swimming in red ink. (At the time, mail recipients paid postage: If a mail carrier failed to find a recipient, no money was made. This happened a lot.) Johnson fixed the financial problem by introducing the prepaid postage stamp, which flipped the responsibility of paying to senders. According to historian C. L. Grant, in 1845, Johnson estimated that the department would have a deficit of over a million dollars. By the time he left that was down to $30,000.

14. The location of James K. Polk's grave is causing a stir in Tennessee.

Polk died, likely of cholera, in 1849, just months after leaving office. Because he died of an infectious disease, the president was hastily buried in a city cemetery near the outskirts of Nashville. Months later, he was re-interred near his Nashville mansion, Polk Place. In 1893, his tomb was moved again to the state Capitol grounds. Today, Tennessee legislators are actively debating whether to move Polk’s bones a fourth time, this time to his old family home in Columbia, Tennessee.

10 Complicated Facts About Shaft

Richard Roundtree stars in Shaft (1971).
Richard Roundtree stars in Shaft (1971).
MGM

On July 2, 1971, moviegoers caught their first glimpse of John Shaft, the "black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks." Today, Shaft is considered one of the grandfathers of the blaxploitation genre—and it’s got one of the most recognizable soundtracks of all time. While Samuel L. Jackson has taken on the role for a new generation here are some interesting facts about the original film's creation and release. If you picked up on why Shaft and his associates call everyone "mother," you’re smarter than at least one unfortunate reporter.

1. A white newspaper reporter created Shaft.

John Shaft made his debut in Shaft, a novel by Ernest Tidyman. Tidyman was a reporter for The Cleveland News, The New York Post, and The New York Times before he began writing the Shaft series, which included seven detective stories. Along with John D.F. Black, he adapted his first Shaft book into the screenplay for the first film. He would later go on to write the screenplays for The French Connection (1971) and High Plains Drifter (1973) as well as Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) and the Shaft TV series (1973-1974). His work earned him an NAACP Image Award.

2. The studio wanted to shoot Shaft in Los Angeles.

Shaft was filmed entirely in New York City, which is clearly illustrated by the shots of Times Square and Greenwich Village. But it nearly wasn’t. In his autobiography, Voices in the Mirror, director Gordon Parks recalled how he received word from MGM mere hours before he was set to commence filming that he was to return to Los Angeles and shoot the movie there. Apparently it was a budgetary issue, but Parks wasn’t having it. He flew back to the West Coast and essentially told the studio heads he would quit if he couldn’t shoot in Manhattan. "It has to have the smell of New York," Parks insisted. The director won out, and his nightmare of a Harlem in Hollywood was never realized.

3. Shaft's mustache was non-negotiable.

The Los Angeles fiasco was behind him, but Parks immediately faced another scare when he spied his star, Richard Roundtree, heading to the bathroom with a towel and razor. Producer Joel Freeman had asked him to get rid of his soon-to-be legendary mustache. Parks told Roundtree emphatically, “Shave it off and you’re out of a job.” And with that, the ‘stache stayed in the picture.

4. Gordon Parks put his magazine in the movie.

In the movie’s opening sequence, Shaft stops to talk to a blind newsstand vendor. The magazine Essence is prominently displayed—and that’s no accident; Parks helped found the publication and served as its editorial director for its first three years in print.

5. Bumpy Jonas was based on a real mobster.

Shaft spends most of the movie tracking down a kidnapped girl. She’s the daughter of Harlem crime kingpin Bumpy Jonas, and Bumpy was not a Hollywood invention. He was based on Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, who ruled the Harlem crime scene from the 1930s through the 1960s. He had ties to the infamous murder of Dutch Schultz and mentored Frank Lucas, the notorious heroin dealer Denzel Washington played in American Gangster. Fictionalized versions of Johnson have also appeared in movies like The Cotton Club and Hoodlum.

6. Gordon Parks made a cameo.

Parks appears briefly in the montage of Shaft searching for Ben Buford. He’s the landlord with the pipe, who complains that he’s also looking for Buford, who owes him six months of rent.

7. Muhammad Ali's trainer had a bit role.

Drew Bundini Brown was a well-known member of Muhammad Ali’s entourage. He worked as an assistant trainer, and was famous for the “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” bit he performed with Ali for the cameras. But when he wasn’t in Ali’s corner, Brown was busy racking up movie credits. His first was Shaft, where he played one of Bumpy Jonas's men.

8. "Skloot Insurance" was a nod to a crew member.

Shaft’s office is sandwiched in between Acme Imports Exports Inc. and Skloot Insurance. The latter is a reference to Steven P. Skloot, the movie’s unit production manager.

9. Parks had to explain what "shaft" and "mother" meant to a reporter.

When Parks flew to London to do publicity for the film, he ended up giving an impromptu vocabulary lesson. At a press screening, a confused British reporter asked the director what “shaft” really meant. Parks replied by smiling and sticking his middle finger up in the air, explaining that was “the most honest answer” he could give. But the reporter was persistent and followed up by asking why the characters called each other “mother.” Parks really didn’t know how to answer that one, but luckily, a woman in the audience swooped in. “You’ve heard of Smucker’s jam, young man,” she said. “Just snip out the first two letters and add an ‘f’ and you’ll get the message.”

10. Isaac Hayes was the first black composer to win an Oscar.

Isaac Hayes’s ubiquitous “Theme from Shaft” earned him a 1972 Academy Award for Best Original Song. This win was historic for many reasons: For one, Hayes was the first black composer to score an Oscar. But he was also only the third African American to win an Oscar, period. Prior to 1973, the only other black Academy Award winners were Hattie McDaniel (Best Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind) and Sidney Poitier (Best Actor for Lilies of the Field).

This story has been updated for 2019.

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