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7 Stories of People Who Refused to be Limited (in 2012)

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Is it just me, or are there more and more global news stories about disabled people accomplishing feats that would be quite newsworthy for able-bodied people? I believe it is happening more and more, as modern attitudes about those who've had physical setbacks change to reflect reality. People termed "disabled" have always had the will to accomplish what others thought impossible, but now the people around them are seeing the possibilities more and more. And we can't discount the effects of instant news coverage, which both inspires others and brings us stories we would not otherwise know.

1. Hector Picard

Twenty years ago, Hector Picard was working as an electrician when a transformer sent 13,000 volts through his body. His many injuries included arm damage so bad that both were amputated. After a long recovery, Picard embraced athletics and has competed in more than 50 triathlons in the past few years. Right now he is traveling by bike from Ft. Lauderdale to New York City -a journey of 1500 miles! Along the way, he is speaking and raising funds for the the I Will Foundation. You can follow his progress online.

2. Annie Clark

Every year, the Zaner-Bloser language arts and reading materials company gives awards to students for great penmanship. This year, they were inspired to add a new category of awards for disabled students, and one of the two winners was Annie Clark, a 7-year-old born with no hands. Annie writes by holding an instrument between her two arms, the same method she uses to dress herself and paint her toenails.

"Annie has always been very, very determined, very self-sufficient in dressing herself and feeding herself," Mr. Clark said. "She can ride a bike. She swims. She is just determined that there's nothing she can't do."

Her father said she also types on a keyboard and uses an iPod Touch with no difficulties.

The Clark family has nine children, seven with disabilities, six who were adopted, four of them from China, which is where Annie was born.

3. Kaisa Leka

Kaisa Leka is a Finnish comic book artist, graphic designer, and politician. Leka's deformed legs were amputated ten years ago, and as a young adult, she had to learn to walk all over again with prosthetic legs. However, she did not stop there. Leka took up cycling with her husband, and they take long bike tours together around the world. Just last month, Leka was named Finland's Cyclist of the Year.

4. Claire Lomas

Claire Lomas completed the London Marathon last month with the aid of a bionic suit, even though she is paralyzed from the chest down. The 32-year-old Lomas broke her neck and back in a horse riding accident in 2007. She walked two miles of the course a day, and completed the 26-mile race in 16 days. Although Lomas will not be recorded as an official runner (the rules state finishers must cross the line the same day of the race), she received a special recognition from Virgin founder Richard Branson. The £43,000 ($75,000) walking apparatus, called the ReWalk bionic walking device, responds to changes in balance, and takes a step when the wearer indicates the desire for one. Lomas' race raised £80,000 for the organization Spinal Research.

5. Diane Van Deren

Diane Van Deren was always an athlete, participating in every sport her school offered, which led to a few years as a professional tennis player. Afterward she switched to running marathons. Van Deren suffered from epilepsy, undergoing grand mal seizures for years. Then in 1997, she made the decision to undergo brain surgery to relieve the symptoms. There was a risk of brain damage, but Van Deren weighed that risk against the risk of further brain damage or dying during one of her violent seizures, which had worsened over the years. Surgeons removed a damaged portion of her brain, and the seizures stopped. But there was some damage to her brain from the procedure. Van Deren lost her sense of direction, and her sense of time passing. There is also some memory loss, and a tendency toward sensory overload. In 2002, she began running ultra-marathons, races of 50 miles or more. Van Deren excelled in the longer races, which may be a result of her surgery. She is not aware of the length of time she is running, and may be less aware of pain than she would be otherwise. Now 52 years old, Van Deren finished the 1,000-mile Mountain to Sea Trail in North Carolina on Saturday, June 2, 2012. Her 22-day run set a record for the course, which had never been accomplished in less than 24 days before. Van Deren says she is now through with 1,000-mile races, but will continue in 50- and 100-mile events.

6. Cornel Hrisca-Munn

Cornel Hrisca-Munn was born with a deformed leg and no forearms in Romania in 1991. Placed in one of that country's famously poor orphanages of the time, he was not expected to survive, and wasn't even issued a birth certificate. But Hrisca-Munn survived, and was taken to England at the age of seven months for proper medical care. By the time he approached his teen years, he wanted to learn a musical instrument, and figured the drums were the only instruments he could manage. Hrisca-Munn placed second in a national drumming competition when he was only 14 years old! Earlier this year, YouTube videos of his playing made him a viral star. And he is learning to play bass guitar as well. Hrisca-Munn is now a student at Keble College, Oxford, England, studying philosophy and theology.

7. Chen Zhou

Chen Zhou of Shandong Province, China, was 12 years old when he lost his legs due to a train accident. He began to make a living at age 16 as a street singer, and he recently toured the country singing to pay for a house he bought for his family (he has a wife and two children). Chen is also a mountain climber. He recently completed his 12th ascent up Mount Taishan, which has stairs to the top -6300 of them! Chen walks on his hands, and sees Mount Taishan as both a personal challenge and an opportunity for publicity. Others see his stunt as an inspiration.

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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