9 People Who Refused to be Limited


It's part of human nature to test one's limits, even for those who have extraordinary limitations. All over the world there are people with disabilities who work to do exactly what they are not supposed to be able to do. This is the fourth article in a series about people who set their goals and achieved them despite disabilities.

Amputee Wrestler

Kyle Maynard was born missing the biggest parts of his arms and legs due to congental amputation, a condition in which the limbs are constricted and die due to lack of oxygen in utero. Yet he became a grade school football player and then a wrestler. Maynard's high school record in wrestling was 35 wins and 16 losses. He now wrestles for  the University of Georgia, where he is majoring in broadcast news. Maynard won an ESPY Award in 2004 for the Best Athlete With A Disability. See him in action in this video, and watch as Maynard talks about his life. His autobiography is called No Excuses: The True Story of a Congenital Amputee Who Became a Champion in Wrestling and in Life.

Painting from the Imagination

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Turkish artist Esref Armagan was born blind, and has never seen any of the things he paints. He received no formal training or even encouragement, but developed his own unique techniques. Armagan paints with his fingers, using mostly oil paint, one color at a time. Each color is left to dry completely before he moves on to the next. See a video report on Armagan.

Man in Motion

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Rick Hansen participated in several different sports before a 1973 traffic accident in which he was thrown from the back of a truck left him a paraplegic. He was 15 years old at the time. He returned to sports after rehabilitation and went on to lead his wheelchair basketball team, the Vancouver Cablecars, to six Canadian national championships. Hansen also became the first disabled person to graduate with a degree in physical education from the University of British Columbia. He then turned his focus from basketball to to marathons. He won wheelchair marathon medals at the 1980 and 1984 Paralympics, the 1982 Pan Am Games, and several world championships. But his biggest marathon was not a competition. Hansen wheeled himself around the world from in the Man in Motion World Tour to raise funds for spinal cord injury research and to advocate for accessibility. The trip took over two years and raised $26 million dollars. To continue his advocacy, he founded the Rick Hansen Foundation to improve the quality of life for victims of spinal cord injuries.

Autistic Orator

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The story of Jason McElwain appears to be about sports, but his achievements go way beyond basketball. McElwain gained fame in 2006 when his coach put the autistic team manager in the last game of the year as a player. He scored 20 points and became a local hero and nationwide sensation. McElwain's ongoing achievements are his numerous public appearances and speaking engagements aimed at bringing recognition to autism -exactly the kind of thing that is so difficult for someone with autism.

The Comeback Kid

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Italian racer Alex Zanardi made careers in both CART and Formula One racing. In September of 2001, he was leading a race when a near-fatal accident caused him to lose both legs above the knee. Rather than retire, Zanardi designed his own prosthetic legs. By 2003 he was racing again with a car modified with a hand-controlled accelerator and brakes, and was racing full time again by 2005. The story is told in his autobiography Alex Zanardi: My Sweetest Victory : A Memoir of Racing Success, Adversity, and Courage.

Blind Skateboarder

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High school student Tommy Carroll was born with bilateral retinoblastoma. His eyes were removed when he was two years old. He competes on his school's cross-country team, running while holding the arm of a teammate. Swimming, wrestling, and skiing are some of his other activities. Carroll is a skateboarding whiz, too! He negotiates skate parks by staying in tune with the sound and feel of the skateboard against the pavement. See Carroll in action in this video. Oh yeah, he's an honor student, too.

One-armed Table Tennis

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Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka was one of only two amputees who competed in the Olympic games in Beijing last month (the other was swimmer Natalie DuToit). Born in 1989 without a right hand or forearm, she competed in the 2000 and 2004 Paralympics, winning a gold and silver medal in 2004. Partyka has won many international competitions for disabled players, plus two gold medals at the European Championships for Cadets in 2004 -a tournament for able-bodied players. She returns to beijing to compete in the 2008 Paralympics this week.

Iron Woman

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Kelly Bruno was born with a birth defect affecting her right leg, which was amputated when she was six months old. With a prosthetic leg, she began walking as the same age as other children, and began running track events in the eighth grade. Bruno began competing in triathlons as a student at Duke University, including Iron Man events. She graduated this past spring and plans to attend medical school. Bruno recently worked as a ball girl at the US Open in order to bring publicity to disabled athletes. Her autobiography is called Challenged on Both Sides of the Finish Line. You can follow her activities on her blog.

Marathoner of Hope

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Terry Fox was diagnosed with bone cancer as a teenager. His right leg was amputated in 1977. During his treatment, Fox was touched by the plight of other cancer patients, especially children, and wanted to help them somehow. He decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. After 18 months of training, he began his Marathon of Hope in Newfoundland on April 12th, 1980. He ran 26 miles a day on his prosthetic leg, raising awareness and donations as he went. Fox ran for 143 days and over 3,000 miles (5,373 kilometers) when he was forced to stop because the cancer had recurred. By then he had become famous for his attempt, and Canadians were stunned to see him stop running. Terry Fox died in 1981 at age 22. But his fund raising efforts were not in vain, as the Terry Fox Foundation was organized in his honor to raise money for the National Cancer Institute of Canada. The annual Terry Fox Run is held in locations all over the world to continue his legacy of running to benefit cancer research. This year's event will be on Sunday, September 14th.

Previous articles in this series are 9 People Who Did It Anyway, 9 People Who Knew They Could Do It, and Swimming Without Legs. This article brings the total to 30 people.