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Handicapped athletes – worth our admiration

Compared to them, my life’s not so tough  There’s a book and movie out there – “Soul Surfer” -- about the life of Bethany Hamilton, the professional surfer who lives in Hawaii, whose left arm was bitten off during a shark attack in 2003. On Halloween, no less. Her story (probably brought to mind thanks to recent shark attacks on the East Coast) got me thinking about other handicapped athletes who have overcome tremendous odds to persevere despite the hand life’s dealt them. Hamilton overcame the loss of her left arm and not only went back to surfing less than a month after the attack, but turned professional a few years after that. The surfer’s story underscores how people can persevere through hardships and still come out a winner. Take Melissa Stockwell, for example. She is a war veteran with the U.S. Army, who is a Purple Heart recipient, paralympian, paratriathlete despite the amputation of her leg above the knee nine years ago. In 2004, Stockwell lost her leg in Iraq when a roadside bomb exploded during a convoy. A former high school diver, she began to swim at Walter Reed Hospital as part of her physical therapy. Eventually, she trained to compete in the 2008 Paralympic Games for the U.S. team in which she became the record holder for the 100-meter butterfly and the 100- meter freestyle. “I can really do anything I want to do, missing leg or not,” she says. Another handicapped athlete worth some admiration is Anthony Robles. Born without a leg, he didn’t let that stop him from becoming a national high school and college wrestling champion. In March of 2011, the All-American Arizona State University student won the NCAA championship title for the 125-pound weight class division. Robles told The Wall Street Journal, “I didn’t get into the sport for the attention. I wrestle because I love wrestling, but if I can help change somebody’s life for the better…” Robles’s quote got me thinking back to Tom Dempsey, the NFL New Orleans Saints’ place kicker from the 1970s who still holds the record for the longest field goal, 63 yards, which still stands today. What made Dempsey’s accomplishment so special was factoring in his handicap, actually two: he was born without toes on his right foot and without fingers on his right hand. Nevertheless, he played college football at Palomar College and was then drafted by the Saints in 1969. On Nov. 8, 1970, he ...

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