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10 People Who Did It Anyway

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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!

For more stories, see these previous articles:

9 People Who Did It Anyway

9 People Who Knew They Could Do It

9 People Who Refused to be Limited

8 Amazingly Abled Athletes and Artists

Swimming Without Legs: 3 Inspiring Athletes

Dancing on Crutches

Roll Over Beethoven: 6 Modern Deaf Musicians

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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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