The news that quadruple amputee Philippe Croizon swam the English Channel over the weekend reminded me of so many people I've written about, that I had to look in my files and bring you another inspirational list of people who are labeled as disabled in one way or another, but who still accomplished exactly what they were not supposed to be able to do.
1. Tom Willis
Tom Willis is a motivational speaker from San Diego who has no arms. He has a small appendage on his left side resembling a partial hand, but not on his right side. Willis arranged to throw out the first pitch at a 2008 San Diego Padres game through the TV station that broadcast the games. He pitched right across the plate with his foot and drew national attention. That experience led to Willis' ambition to throw out a first pitch at every major league baseball stadium. The Pitch for Awareness National Tour takes Willis to different cities where he offers his motivational program to schools and civic organizations. He's pitched at ten stadiums so far this year, and is scheduled next at the Texas Rangers game on September 30th.
2. Gabe Marsh
Ed and Ann Marsh of Guntersville, Alabama have birthed, adopted, or fostered 60 children altogether. Ann Marsh taught them all to swim for their own safety, and saw many of them on the Guntersville swim team. Then in 2004, they took home newborn Gabe, who had no legs and only one full arm. But Gabe wanted to swim like the rest of the kids, so at age five he jumped in with them -and swam! Now six years old, Gabe swims on the local team like his siblings. And he's gaining speed with every meet.
3. Cody McCasland
Cody McCasland was delivered prematurely in 2001 missing several bones in his legs, and had other birth defects as well. He was not expected to live for more than a few days. Cody underwent multiple surgeries to correct defects in his organs and limbs. His legs were amputated in 2003. That same afternoon, Cody was caught trying to walk on his stumps! He was fitted with prosthetic legs and learned to walk immediately -and never looked back. He started using running prosthetics at age five. Cody runs, swims, plays games, and competes in athletic competitions. He's won gold medals for both swimming and running, and hopes to represent the US in the Paralympic Games someday. At just short of nine years old, Cody is also busy speaking to groups about limb differences and promotes the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
4. Josh Sundquist
Josh Sundquist was nine when his left leg was amputated due to bone cancer. He took up skiing at age 13, and was a member of the 2006 U.S. Paralympic Ski Team. Sundquist is also the founder of a social networking site for amputees, LessThanFour.org. His book, Just Don't Fall: How I Grew Up, Conquered Illness, and Made it Down the Mountain, became a best seller when it was released earlier this year. But that's not all: Sundquist is a rapper, a dancer, and a wit, as you'll see in The Amputee Rap.
5. Carly Fleischmann
Carly Fleischmann doesn't speak. Her parents thought their severely autistic daughter would never communicate with other people. However, they devoted their lives to providing education and intensive therapy for Carly, which paid off spectacularly when she was eleven years old -that's when she was introduced to a computer. Carly stunned her family and therapists by typing words almost immediately. The girl who never spoke poured her heart out about what autism is like. Now fourteen years old, Carly still doesn't speak, but communicates with her family and teachers by computer, and everyone else through her website and her Facebook page.
6. Liu Wei
Liu Wei touched a wire and was electrocuted at age ten. He spent 45 days in the hospital and his arms had to be amputated. Liu's parents insisted he learn to feed himself without arms so he could be independent. He became adept at using his feet, and at age 18 began to learn piano. Now 23, Liu performed on the TV series China's Got Talent this past summer and brought the crowd to tears with his performance, playing the piano with his toes.
"For people like me, there were only two options. One was to abandon all dreams, which would lead to a quick, hopeless death. The other was to struggle without arms to live an outstanding life," Liu explained to the judges on "China's Got Talent." Thankfully, Liu chose the latter option.
7. Bethany Hamilton
Bethany Hamilton was an accomplished amateur competitive surfer at age 13 and planned to surf professionally as an adult. But on October 31st, 2003, a tiger shark bit her left arm off as she was surfing in Hawaii. Even without her arm, Hamilton did not want to give up surfing. Within a month of the attack, she was back in the water. Not only did she have to relearn how to surf, but she had to face the fear that she might encounter another shark. In fact, she's seen sharks while surfing a few times. Hamilton was awarded an ESPY in the category Best Comeback by an Athlete in 2004. By 2005, she was surfing competitively again, and turned pro in 2008. Hamilton wrote and produced the award-winning 2007 documentary of her life, Heart of a Soul Surfer. Hamilton has also appeared on numerous TV shows.
8. Callum Truscott
If you had no legs, you would, of course, want to play football (soccer). Callum Truscott does just that, on his school team of able-bodied classmates. The 12-year-old from St Austell, Cornwall, participates in swimming competitions and is taking dance classes as well. Callum was born with legs that end just below the knees. He wears prosthetics for soccer, rugby, and cricket. Although safety rules prevent him from playing official rugby matches, he is a star on the football team. Callum is also an endurance swimmer, recently beating most of his classmates in a 1,500 meter race. He wants to become a sports instructor someday.
9. Vinod Thakur
Vinod Thakur was born without legs. He learned to walk on his hands, and made his living repairing cell phones in New Delhi. Thakur taught himself to dance by watching hip-hop videos on the internet, and after only five months of practice, auditioned for the TV show India's Got Talent. His performance in the first round of competition made him an instant star on the subcontinent. Thakur would like to open a dance school where he can teach other disabled people to dance.
10. Philippe Croizon
Philippe Croizon is a 42-year-old French quadruple amputee. In 1994, he was hit by 20,000 volts of electricity from a power line while working with a television antenna, causing so much damage that all his limbs had to be at least partially removed. Saturday, Croizon became the first quadruple amputee ever to swim the English Channel, which you can watch in this video. He expected the crossing to take around 24 hours, but completed it in just over 13 hours, using prosthetic flippers. Croizon's next endeavor? He plans to swim the Strait of Gibraltor!
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