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Charles McDonald

7 People Who Did It Anyway

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Charles McDonald

No matter how many lists I post on people who have achieved their dreams despite disabilities, more people manage to do exactly what you'd think they wouldn't be able to. Here are seven more stories that prove nothing is impossible.

1. Georges Exantus

Georges Exantus was a professional dancer in Haiti who had earned the nickname "The Gladiator." Then came the 2010 earthquake. Exantus' apartment building collapsed, pinning him under the rubble for three days before his friends could dig him out. His right leg was so damaged that it was ultimately amputated. A medical relief team from Israel sent Exantus to the Sheba Medical Center in Israel for rehabilitation and a prosthetic leg. Exantus' left leg and one hand were also damaged and needed surgical intervention. Within a year, he was back on the dance floor doing the salsa, cha-cha, and samba, and is now teaching dance as part of a Latin dance company. Exantus also married his girlfriend Sherly earlier this year. You can see more pictures here.

2. Iván Castro


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Captain Iván Castro is still on active duty in the U.S. Army Special Forces, despite the fact that he is blind. As a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, he was in Iraq in 2006 when a mortar landed in front of him. It killed the two men with him and left Castro severely injured. He had several broken bones, a finger that was amputated, internal injuries, and an eye blown off. His other eye was damaged beyond repair. After two months in the hospital and a total of 17 months recovering, Castro returned to active duty at Fort Bragg.

Castro also returned to athletic training. He had participated in several long distance runs before his injuries, and was determined to run marathons afterward. Castro runs with a guide, and has participated in the Marine Corps Marathon, the U.S. Air Force Marathon, and the Boston Marathon several times, as well as 50- and 100-mile ultra marathons and long-distance bicycle tours. Castro also works with wounded veterans groups and is an advocate for the blind.

3. David Holton

Jefferson District Judge David Holton is the only blind judge in Kentucky. He was born with sight but suffered a tumor as a young man that left him blind. But he had played football, and loves the sport. So Holton took on a second job for fun—as stadium announcer at high school football games! He did the deed for Manual High School in Louisville when his son played football for the school, and after Brooke graduated, switched to Western High, where his wife works. With cues from his friend Thomas Patteson, he follows the game by sound, and fans in the bleachers don't even know the announcer is blind until they are told.

4. Charles McDonald


Photograph from Charles McDonald at Facebook.

Charles McDonald of Bellevue, Kentucky, is a cyclist who does mountain bike and cyclocross races, with only one arm. His right arm was amputated due to a 1998 accident, after which he became depressed and gained 100 pounds. McDonald discovered bike racing and the weight fell away. He trained long hours and entered 24-hour endurance races where he blew past able-bodied riders. He is a member of the Paralyzed Veterans Racing Team, but also races on two non-disabled teams.

5. Zach Hodskins

Zach Hodskins (number 24) is a senior basketball player at Milton High School in Milton, Georgia. He was born with only part of his left arm. As a child, when other kids asked how he lost his arm, he would tell them a shark bit it off. Hodskins played basketball as a matter of course, and impressed his coaches and teammates. He was averaging 31 points a game—as an 11-year-old on a middle school team. During his high school career, he was courted by several Division II and III colleges, but accepted an offer to play for the Florida Gators as a preferred walk-on. See an interview with Hodskins

6. Caleb Smith

Caleb Smith of St. Paul, Minnesota, was three years old when a rare blood disease attacked him, resulting in having both his legs amputated at the knee, and both arms amputated at the elbow. But that didn't slow him down. In fifth grade, he joined the school wrestling team. Now on the varsity wrestling team at Harding High School, Smith won his first match this past spring. See him in action here

7. Michael Stolzenberg


Photograph from Harris Stolzenberg.

In 2008, 8-year-old Michael Stolzenberg suffered a serious bacterial infection that led to gangrene. To save his life, both his arms and legs were amputated. But he kept his sense of humor and his determination. Stolzenberg played football in school and plays lacrosse for his middle school team. Now 13 years old, he reacted to the bombing at the Boston Marathon with an immediate offer to help victims who had to have amputations. He and his older brother Harris came up with a plan in which Harris, a college freshman, will run in the 2014 Boston Marathon to raise money for The Scott Rigsby Foundation, which will help those injured in the bombing. You can donate through the site Mikey's Run.

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

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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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