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9 People Who Rose to the Challenge

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People with disabilities have the same aspirations as anyone, whether they came up with a dream before or after they became disabled. And, like those in the general population, there are a few who will do whatever it takes to make their dream come true, or to live their lives the way they want. Here are nine more stories of folks who did just that.

1. Kurt Fearnley

Australian athlete Kurt Fearnley was born without the lower portion of his spinal cord. He has legs, with feeling and some movement, but they do not support his weight. So Fearnley has always used a wheelchair. What is amazing is how he uses it. He started wheelchair sports as a teenager, and represented Australia in the Paralympic games in 2000, winning two silver medals, in 2004, winning two gold medals, and in Beijing in 2008, earning one gold, two silver, and a bronze medal. And Fearnley's races get longer. He is now a marathon man, participating in and winning the wheelchair divisions of marathons all over the world, including the New York and Chicago marathons several times. Fearnley participated in the Boston Marathon yesterday, finishing second. Canadian Joshua Cassidy, the wheelchair athlete who beat him, set a new world record!

2. Deborah Roach

You may or may not be aware that pole dancing has become a competitive sport separate from the traditional entertainment offered at strip clubs. The International Pole Championship was held in Hong Kong last month, and Deborah Roach won the title in the disabled division. The Australian dancer has no left arm, but can maneuver and balance just fine with her right. Roach only took up pole dancing in 2006. By 2009, she was able to quit her day job to dedicate herself to dancing and she also became a personal trainer.

3. Zach Gowan

Zach Gowan's left leg was amputated due to cancer when he was only eight years old. He became a professional wrestler, under the stage name Tenacious Z. Gowan signed a contract with the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) in 2002 when he was only 19. In his WWE debut, he jumped out of the audience to defend his favorite wrestler and had to be physically subdued. Rowdy Roddy Piper tried to extract Gowan from the ring and pulled his prosthetic leg off, stunning the crowd. Soon, Gowan was cast as a regular wrestler, but how "regular" was it that he was the only one-legged wrestler in the history of the organization? Gowan, fully aware that he was hired as a gimmick, was fired by the WWE after about a year. He wrestled with independent associations for some time, but the inflated ego, injuries, and drug use that came with fame left their mark. Gowan finally kicked his drug habit for good in 2010. He now works as a motivational speaker and a stunt man, and still wrestles occasionally.

4. Kristin Rytter

Dr. Kristin Rytter has cerebral palsy. The condition affects people in different degrees. In Rytter's case, she can neither speak nor use her hands and feet, yet she earned her PhD in 2007. Rytter developed her own way of communicating as she grew up, a sort of "eye code" that her father understood. Her mother labeled all the objects in the house to help her learn to read words. As an adult, she stills uses the eye code with her family and staff members who understand it, but communicates with everyone else via computer. It took Rytter 17 years to complete her dissertation, which she wrote by tapping out letters in Morse code with her head. Her subject was one in which she has a particular insight -the struggle for communication in disabled children. Rytter then wrote her autobiography, People who Raised Me Beyond, published in 2009.

5. René Lavand

René Lavand is a magician from Argentina who specializes in close-up magic and card tricks. He was born in 1928, and lost his right hand in an accident at age nine. Lavand studied magic for years, and had to develop his own unique procedures because all the literature he found assumed a magician had two hands. Lavand turned pro at age 32 and has performed all around the world. He now teaches the art of illusion to others when he is in his hometown of Tandil, Argentina.

6. Lord Lokhraed

Nocturnal Depression is a French metal band. Guitarist and singer Cédric Grégoire (stage name Lord Lokhraed) was born with ectrodactyly, or lobster-claw syndrome, on his left hand, which he uses to fret the guitar. If there is any biographical information on him on the internet, I haven't yet found it.

7. Daniel Kish

Daniel Kish is the founder and president of the organization World Access for the Blind. He is a a Perceptual Mobility Specialist, who teaches other blind people to maximize their resources to navigate through the world. Kish himself navigates by echolocation, a method of determining the shape, size, and distance of obstacles by analyzing sounds that bounce off them. His eyes were removed due to cancer when he was 13 months old, so he learned echolocation on his own as a child. Now Kish teaches the technique to others. In his spare time, Kish uses echolocation to see the way as he walks, hikes, and bikes without the aid of a sighted companion. Yes, Kish is an avid biker, using echolocation to see traffic and off-road obstacles. Photograph from World Access for the Blind.

8. Jaco van Gass

Private Jaco Van Gass

Jaco van Gass grew up in South Africa, but moved to England to join the military. In March of 2009, as he was wrapping up his tour in Afghanistan, a rocket grenade exploded, blowing his left arm off. Gass turned to extreme sports with the organization Walking with the Wounded to draw attention to the needs of injured veterans and to raise money for their rehabilitation. Photograph from Flickr user Walking with the Wounded.

Last year, he went on a walking expedition to the North Pole. Now he and four other veterans are getting ready to scale Mt. Everest. For this trip, Gass designed a prosthetic ice axe that he can attach to his existing upper left arm and use as a tool to scale the mountain. It will help to free up his right hand during the expedition. And it has a heater installed in it! You can follow the progress of the Everest expedition at the team blog.

9. Barry West

Barry West of Uckfield, East Sussex, England was a boxer and a rugby player before a traffic accident left him a quadriplegic in 1996. After that, he became interested in extreme sports. It took a few years for West to recover as much as he could from a broken neck, after which he was confined to a wheelchair. But he spoke to another quadriplegic five years ago who had gone skydiving, and was inspired to do the same. West depends on the help of friends to go kayaking, paragliding, mountain-climbing, skiing, and scuba diving, but he qualified as a scuba instructor on his own. He also paints by holding a brush in his mouth. West will be a torchbearer when the Olympic flame passes through East Sussex on July 18th. See a video of West telling his story.

See more stories of people who refused to be limited by disability in previous posts of this continuing series.

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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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