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8 Who Rose to the Challenge

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Almost five years ago, I wrote 9 People Who Did It Anyway, about people who excelled in the exact activity they weren't supposed to be able to. A dozen lists later, we still see new stories of such accomplishments. Some take on these challenges to continue what they were doing before they became disabled. Some do it because they don't like to be told they can't. Some do it to show the world that disabled people encompass a wide range of ambition and ability, just like everyone else. Others do it to raise money and awareness of those less fortunate. And some do it just because they want to. Each has a story worth telling.

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1. Nick Newell

Nick "Notorious" Newell is an MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter, lightweight category. He was born with a left arm that ends just below the elbow. Newell had a distinguished high school and college career in wrestling, and an amateur MMA record of two wins and one loss. Since turning professional, he has an undefeated record of nine matches. His biggest challenge so far is finding opponents, as many fighters are unwilling to take him on. On December 7th, Newell earned the XFC lightweight championship title by defeating Eric Reynolds in an 82-second fight, which you can see on video.

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2. Zach Hodskins

Zach Hodskins was born in 1996 perfectly healthy, except he was missing half of his left arm. Still, he became a basketball phenomenon in grade school, and a star on his middle school team in Tennessee. Then his family moved to Georgia, where Zach had to explain what happened to his arm all over again.

“Everyone wanted to know how I lost my arm, which is nothing new,” Zach said. “Now if you think about it, that’s funny because what they don’t know is, I never had it. So I got a serious face and I told them that it got bitten off by a shark. The look on their faces was priceless. I like that story; makes me sound tougher.”

As a junior at Milton High School, Zach is averaging 12 points a game and lands 60% of his three-point shots. See Hodskins in action.

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3. Derek Rabelo

Ernesto Rabelo is a Brazilian surfer. When his son was born in 1992, he had high hopes for the boy to become a professional surfer, so much so that he named him after surfer Derek Ho. Derek Rabelo was born blind, but the dream remained. Derek has surfed all over the world, including Hawaii's famous Pipeline. Rabelo is the subject of a documentary now in production called Beyond Sight. See Rabelo in action at vimeo.

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4. Henderson Brack

Henderson Brack was born in 1840 and served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He was wounded in battle, and his arm was amputated. Brack was an accomplished fiddle player before his injury, and afterward set about finding a way to play again. He held his bow between his knees and moved the fiddle up and down under the bow! Brack became famous across eastern Texas and western Louisiana as the one-armed fiddle player.

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5. Eric LeGrand

Eric LeGrand was a defensive tackle at Rutgers University until he became paralyzed during a game in October of 2010. His neck was fractured and his spinal cord injured. His mother was told that LeGrand would most likely be on a respirator for the rest of his life, and his chances of walking again were between zero and 5%. However. LeGrand announced his intention to recover. With practice, he developed the ability to breathe on his own within a few months. In early 2011, he had recovered sensation all over his body and could move his shoulders. Within a year of his injury, he began to use his arms again, and could stand with the help of a metal frame. LeGrand also returned to his studies, determined to graduate. Meanwhile, Rutgers coach Greg Schiano moved to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and signed LeGrand to the team, completing the young player's dream of being part of the NFL. LeGrand accepted, then announced his retirement from football in order to free up the slot for another player. However, LeGrand works as an motivational speaker and appears in ads for Subway. His plans are to become a sports announcer. And to walk again.

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6. Mikhail Tal

In 1957, Soviet chess Grandmaster Misha Tal became the USSR's youngest chess champion at the age of 20. He went on to become World Champion in 1960. Tal holds the world record for the longest winning streak in chess history -and he also holds second place in that record. Lifelong ill health combined with drug and alcohol abuse led to his death from kidney failure in 1992. Buried among the chess accomplishments in his biography is the fact that Tal was born with Ectrodactyly (Lobster Claw Syndrome) in his right hand, meaning his fingers were fused together. This didn't affect his chess game, but what even many chess fans don't know is that Tal was a piano player as well! Photograph by Wikipedia user Gerhard Hund.

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7. Spencer West

Spencer West has a genetic condition that prevented his legs' muscles from working, so they were amputated when he was a child. Since he has no legs, he walked on his hands. All the way up Mt. Kilimanjaro! West reached Uhuru Peak in Tanzania, the highest altitude in Africa, on June 19th of last summer. From his blog:

The moment the summit was within sight... it was incredible. We looked around - me, David and Alex - and realized that, after seven grueling days of relentless climbing, after 20,000 feet of our blood, sweat and tears (and, let's face it, vomit) we had actually made it. We were at the top. The summit sign seemed almost like a mirage.

Then it sunk in. We made it. To the top of the mountain. The mountain that I promised to the world I would climb. The bleeding fingers and blisters were all worth it. I looked at the guys, my two buddies who dreamed up this crazy plan with me, and realized we actually finished what we started.

West's announcement can be heard in a video from the BBC. His climb was not only a personal accomplishment, but it raised funds for West's charity, Free The Children, to bring clean water to villages in Kenya.

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8. Jacob Rainey

Jacob Rainey was playing quarterback on his high school football team last year when his leg was broken, but much worse, an artery was ruptured, which cut off his circulation. His leg was amputated a week later. Rainey wanted to return to football, and play quarterback again, but his therapists doubted that any prosthetic leg would be strong, flexible, and sensitive enough for the required moves. But Rainey worked hard and, with an athletic prosthetic made for skiers, returned to the field as starting quarterback last September at his high school. And just last week, Rainey announced that he will be playing football at the University of Virginia after high school.

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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