12 Incredible Athletes with Disabilities
There are people who are amazing athletes and who have everything going for them.
Then, there are the people on this list: Amazing athletes who succeeded, even with all of the odds stacked against them.
Some of them were born with birth defects that resulted in lost limbs or paralysis. Others sustained life-altering injuries after serious accidents or after serving the U.S. in Iraq or Afghanistan. All of them overcame their injuries to turn themselves into some of the best athletes in the world—even if they had never participated in a single sport before their lives changed forever.
Sports are obviously full of really strong people, but these athletes are certainly the cream of the crop.
Baxter Humby wasn't born without one of his hands, but he had to have his right one amputated at birth below the elbow after it got entangled with the umbilical cord. Even so, the Winnipeg native's accomplishments have been many.
Humby began competing in martial arts at 17 and, already an accomplished runner, competed for the Canadian Paralympic National Track Team in 1992 and in 1994. Two years later, he won the Canadian Super Welterweight Kickboxing Championship.
To this day, Humby remains the only kick boxer who has ever won a world title with one hand and still remains the IMTC World Super Welterweight Champion. He was also the WBC Super Welterweight National Champion in 2010.
Humby hasn't limited himself to work in the ring: He served as Tobey McGwire's stunt double in Spider-Man 3.
Chelsea McClammer wasn't born with a disability. Instead, she had to adjust to it at the age of six, when she was in a car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
But instead of giving up on sports, she has thrown herself into them, and it started paying off in 2008, when she was named the youngest member of the U.S.'s Paralympic team.
In Beijing, she competed in the women's 800-meter, where she finished in eighth place. That same year, she finished in first place and set the female course record at the Bloomsday Road Race in Spokane, Wash.
Since her '08 debut, McClammer has continued raking in the honors, medaling six times at the Parapan American Games in Guadalajara in 2011. She was also a member of the IPC Athletics World Championships team in 2011, and the next year, she was nominated for an ESPY for the Best Female Athlete with a Disability.
For six years, Los Angeles native Oz Sanchez was a member of the Marine Corps. In 2001, he suffered a spinal cord injury after a motorcycle accident and was left paralyzed.
A quick seven years later, he became a Paralympic athlete.
Sanchez represented the U.S. at the 2008 Games in Beijing, earning a gold medal in the para-cycling time trial and a bronze medal in the road race. The next year, he earned another gold medal—this time, in the time trial event at the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships in Italy.
After finishing in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in 2010, Sanchez returned to the Paralympic Games in London in 2012, where he once again took home a gold medal in the team relay and a bronze in the individual time trial.
Snowboarding was always a part of Alana Nichols' life. Even after she injured herself during a snowboarding trip at the age of 17, when she attempted a back flip on her board but landed on her back on a rock, she kept competing, despite being paralyzed from the waist down.
Originally, Nichols, now 30, sought to focus on wheelchair basketball, where she achieved plenty of success: She earned a gold medal with the U.S. team in Beijing in 2008.
Then, upon relocating from Alabama to Colorado, she decided to give skiing a try.
Her success was almost immediate: In 2009, she trumped Laurie Stephens—a Paralympic gold medalist—in the Super G at the North American Cup. Nichols also medaled four times at the 2010 Paralympic Games in Vancouver, taking home gold in the downhill sitting event and in the giant slalom sitting event.
Kyle Maynard's accomplishments are many. He is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He was once designated GNC's World's Strongest Teen. He has been named one of the U.S. Jaycees Top 10 Outstanding Young Americans.
And he has done it all as a congenital amputee.
Maynard was born without any arms or legs, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming an MMA fighter, competing against able-bodied athletes.
He also works as a motivational speaker for the Washington Speaker's Bureau, has twice been named the Best Male Athlete with a Disability at the ESPYs, owns a crossfit gym in Suwanee, Ga., and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro without any assistance, becoming the first-ever quadruple amputee to do so.
In March 2004, Melissa Stockwell was a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and had just been shipped out to Iraq. Three weeks later, she became the first female soldier to lose a limb when a roadside bomb exploded near her unarmored Humvee, claiming her left leg.
Since then, Stockwell has made more history as the first Iraq veteran chosen to participate in the Paralympics. Stockwell competed in the 100-meter butterfly, the 100-meter freestyle and the 400-meter freestyle and finished sixth, fifth and fourth in her events in 2008.
Stockwell has also earned three gold medals in 2010, 2011 and 2012 at the ITU Triathlon World Championships and remains the top-ranked athlete in the women's TRI-2 class, which features above-knee amputees.
In addition to competing internationally for the U.S., Stockwell also works as a prosthetist and as a member of the board of directors of the Wounded Warrior Project.
Thanks to the movie Soul Surfer, the story of Bethany Hamilton has been well publicized.
The professional surfer and Hawaii native was attacked by a shark in 2003 at the age of 13; the shark severed her left arm, and by the time she arrived at the hospital, she had lost more than 60 percent of her blood.
Still, not only did Hamilton survive the vicious attack, she returned to the water within a month, using a custom-made board that was built with a handle for her right arm. In January 2004—mere months after the attack—she began entering competitions again.
These days, Hamilton splits her time among various speaking engagements and, of course, competing on her board—and she no longer needs a custom-made one.
In 2005, she placed first in the NSSA National Competition and placed first in the O'Neill Island Girl Junior Pro tournament. In 2009, at the ASP World Junior Championship in Australia, she came in second.
Natalie Du Toit
When Natalie Du Toit was 17 years old, she was riding her scooter to school after swimming practice when she was struck by a car. Already an accomplished swimmer who had been competing internationally since she was 14, the South African had to have her left leg amputated at the knee.
Three months later, she was back in the pool.
Du Toit accomplished plenty in the Paralympic Games in 2004, 2008 and in 2012, but what is special about her is that she has also achieved accolades in the Olympics against able-bodied athletes.
In 2008, Du Toit was one of two Paralympians to qualify for the Summer Olympics in Beijing. She qualified in May 2008 when she finished fourth at the 10K open water race at the World Championships in Spain. In Beijing, she finished in 16th place, and she did it without a prosthesis.
If you visit Jessica Long's personal website, you'll immediately come across an image of her toting a gaggle of gold medals over her shoulder. It's only fitting, since she has 12 of them. And those are only the golds; her medal total currently stands at a whopping 17.
Long was born with fibular hemimelia, and as a result, she had to have her lower legs amputated at 18 months. She quickly learned to walk with prostheses, though, and began her Paralympic career at the tender age of 12.
As the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympic Team in Athens in 2004, she earned three gold medals: in the 100-meter freestyle, the 400-meter freestyle and the 4x100-meter freestyle. That was only the beginning.
In 2006, Long broke a whopping 18 world records and tallied nine gold medals in nine events at the IPC Swimming World Championships in South Africa. In 2008 in Beijing, she took home six medals, four of which were gold. Most recently, in London in 2012, she earned five gold medals, two silvers and a bronze before being named the U.S. Paralympic Sportswoman of the Year.
The list of medals garnered by Tatyana McFadden throughout the course of her Paralympic career is daunting—it's that long.
The Russian-born wheelchair basketball and track competitor participated for the U.S. in four Paralympic Games and in the 2013 World Championships, reeling in 16 medals, including nine golds.
McFadden was born with spina bifida, which left her paralyzed from the waist down at birth. Her mother abandoned her, and the orphanage in which she lived for the first six years of her life didn't have the money to afford a wheelchair, so she walked on her hands.
She was adopted by Deborah McFadden, a commissioner of disabilities for the U.S. Health Department, and she began a new life in Baltimore in which she participated in a variety of sports, including gymnastics, wheelchair basketball and track and field.
In her first competition at age eight—the 2004 Paralympics in Athens—she medaled twice and hasn't slowed down since. She also won both the Boston and the London marathons in 2013—both of which occurred in the period of one week.
After the tragic events at this year's Boston Marathon, the story of Dick and Rick Hoyt became even more renowned than it was before. Team Hoyt has been running since 1977, participating in 70 marathons, including 30 in their home city of Boston, and six Ironman triathlons.
Team Hoyt is Dick Hoyt and Rick Hoyt. Rick was born with cerebral palsy after his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck at birth; as such, his muscles can't receive the right messages from his brain. Despite an early prognosis that was anything but promising, Rick attended public school and college, where he graduated with a degree in Special Education.
For their races, Team Hoyt has developed a special boat, special bicycle and special wheelchair that allows Dick to pull, carry and push his son as they compete.
Even now, at the ages of 73 and 51, they still participate in 20-25 races per year, including this year's Boston Marathon, which they were a mile away from finishing when it was cut short by the bombs. The pair earned this year's Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPYs.
The legend of Jim Abbott grows more and more with every year that passes.
Despite the fact that he was born without a right hand, Abbott simply wouldn't let his dreams of playing Major League Baseball be diminished—and his perseverance paid off.
The native of Flint, Mich., was selected in the first round of the 1988 MLB draft after establishing himself as one of the best prospects in college baseball. Within a year, he was up in the majors, earning a spot in the California Angels' rotation without having pitched in one minor league game.
In his third year in the majors, he posted an 18-11 record with a 2.89 ERA, finishing third in the Cy Young voting. He also famously threw a no-hitter against the Indians in 1993.