Inspiring Athletes Who Have Overcome Their Disabilities to Dominate

Thomas John Dempsey Thomas John Dempsey lived from January 12, 1947, to April 4, 2020. He was born to Huey Dempsey and Laverne Dempsey in Milwaukee,… Trista - September 10, 2022

Thomas John Dempsey

Thomas John Dempsey lived from January 12, 1947, to April 4, 2020. He was born to Huey Dempsey and Laverne Dempsey in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. He was born without toes and fingers on his right hand and leg. Thomas John Dempsey was an American professional Football player who was a placekicker in the national football league for the New Orleans Saints, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Los Angeles Rams, the Houston Oilers, and the Buffalo Bills.

He attended High school at San Dieguito in California, then proceeded to Palomar college. At the Very Rechichar’s NFL, Dempsey broke the record for the longest field goal by seven yards. In 1977, the NFL added a rule, informally known as the “Tom Dempsey Rule, “that “any shoe that a player wears with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe.”


Samurai Rolle

Samurai Rolle is a retired American football cornerback. He was born on August 10, 1976, and attended Miami Beach high school in Miami Beach, Florida. At Florida State University, where he attended college, he was part of the college football team. He played in 38 games with 24 starts and made 12 interceptions and 111 tackles in his four-year career. The Tennessee Oilers selected Samari Rolle in the second round of the 1998 NFL Draft.

On March 7, 2005, Rolle signed for the Baltimore Ravens as an unrestricted free agent. In his first year at Baltimore, he recorded 41 tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception, and 11 pass deflections. In 2007, during the NFL season, Rolle missed five games due to an undisclosed illness. On November 21, 2007, he disclosed the illness as Epilepsy. Rolle is currently an assistant football coach at the Atlantic Community High school in Delray Beach, Florida.


David Garrard

David Garrard was born February 14, 1978, in East Orange, New Jersey, United States. He attended East Carolina University and Southern High school. As a Former American football quarterback, primarily with the Jacksonville Jaguars, David played in the National Football league for ten seasons. In 2002, he played college football and was selected by the Jaguars in the fourth round of the NFL draft.

On January 5, 2008, in the AFC wild card, Garrad led his team to a 31-29 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. On May 8, 2015, David Garrard signed a contract with Jacksonville Jaguars to retire as a team member officially. In 2004, Garrad was later diagnosed with Crohn’s disease but underwent treatment. Feeling inspired by these incredible athletes with disabilities?


Natalie Du Toit

Natalie Du Toit was born on January 29, 1984, in Capetown, South Africa. She attended the University of Capetown, Reddam house, and Wynberg Girls High school. Natalie Du Toit first competed internationally at 14, when she participated in the 1998 commonwealth games in Kuala Lumpur. At the Afro-Asian games, she won gold medals in the 800-meter freestyle. In the All-African games, she participated in the 800-meter freestyle and won a bronze in the 400-meter freestyle.

In February 2001, the doctors were forced to amputate her leg at the knee after this athlete was hit by a car while riding her scooter back to school after swimming practice. Natalie Du Toit was the first swimmer with a missing limb to participate in the Olympic game. In August 2002, she was awarded the western cape Golden Cross. This amazing disabled athlete earned gold medals at the 2004 Paralympic Games as well as the common health game. She was just one of two Paralympians to compete at the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing. Plus, Natalie earned the Whan Youn Dai Achievement Award in 2008.

Hindustan Times

Arunima Sinha

Arunima Sinha was born July 20, 1989, in Ambedkar Nagar, India. Sinha is an Indian mountain climber and sportswoman. However, she is also the first one-leg female to scale Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Elbrus, Mount Kosciuszko, Mount Denali, and Mount Vinson. Arunima Sinha is also a seven-time Indian volleyball player. However, reading all of that, you wouldn’t think that Sinha lost her left leg when a train went over it. She had no choice but to get the leg amputated.

Arunima Sinha is now dedicated to social welfare and wants to open a free-spot academy for poor and disabled people. She donates all the financial aid she receives for this cause. As a result, this awesome athlete earned Padma Shri, which is the fourth highest civilian award in India, in 2015. On January 4, 2019, she climbed the seventh peak in Antarctica and became the world’s first female amputee to climb Mount Vinson.


Amy Palmiero-Winters

This phenomenal athlete was born on August 18, 1972, in Meadville, Pennsylvania, United States. Amy Palmiero-Winters earned the best female award with a disability from ESPN during the ESPY Award. She deserves this great honor for overcoming her adversity! Amy Palmiero-Winters is a below-knee amputee who currently holds eleven world records in various events. In 2010, she was awarded the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States.

In 2006, Palmiero-Winters, with her new prosthetic, ran the New York marathon in 3:24 and broke the world record as a below-knee female amputee by 25 minutes. Feeling inspired by these incredible athletes with disabilities?

USA Today

Michael Edgson

Michael Edgson is a retired Canadian Paralympic Swimmer. He was born on May 6, 1969, in North Vancouver, Canada. He is a blind athlete who competes in the B3 classification. His visual impairment did not negatively affect him in swimming as it might in others. At the age of 14, he competed internationally in both disability and able-bodied swimming events. Many agree that Michael Edgson is one of the most successful Canadian athletes of all time.

This disabled athlete won four gold medals and a silver in 1992 in Barcelona. In 2006, he was inducted into the Terry Fox hall of fame and also became a recipient of the BC Disabled Athlete of the year award. Just a few years later, in 2009, Michael Edgson became the first Paralympic to be honored with a place in swimming Canada’s Circle of Excellence. Finally, after retiring from international competition, Edgson became the financial director for the Canadian Paralympic Committee.


Tatyana McFadden

Two moms adopted Tatyana McFadden at Sainton on April 29, 1989. Her diagnosis is spina bifida. She spent the first six years of her life in a Russian orphanage with virtually nothing, not even a wheelchair. This fantastic athlete was paralyzed from the waist down and unable to move. She learned to walk on her hands to meet up with other children. Today, Tatyana is an American Paralympic athlete of Russian descent competing in the category T54. She took up a variety of sports to strengthen her muscles, like swimming, gymnastics, and basketball. In fact, she has won twenty paralympic medals in multiple summer Paralympic Games.

She started competing at the age of eight in the 2004 summer Paralympics in Athens, Greece, where she won a silver medal in the women’s 100 meters. Tatyana McFadden became the first Athlete to win six gold medals at a championship during the 2013 IPC Athletics world championship in Lyon. In 2013, Tatyana won the Boston, Chicago, London, and New York marathons. By 2015 McFadden Tatyana had won the NYC marathon and broke the women’s course record by seven minutes and 20 seconds. Then, in October 2021, she won the Bank of Chicago marathon.


Baxter Humby

Baxter Humby is a former stuntman and Canadian kickboxer who gained the nickname “The One Armed Bandit.” He earned that moniker because he lost his right hand. It was amputated at birth because his umbilical cord became tangled around it. Baxter Humby is missing his arm from the elbow down, but he’d already learned his skills from a very young age. His father taught him boxing when he was around four years old, and then he started doing Tae Kwan Do at the age of 17.

In 2012, Baxter Humby was nominated for the ESPY Award for Best Male Athlete with a Disability after he received several titles under his belt. He won the Canadian Super Welterweight Kickboxing Championship in 1996 and also won titles for the International Muay Thai Council World Super Welterweight Championship, WBC Super Welterweight National Championship, IKKC USA Kickboxing Championship, IMTC World Middleweight Championship, and IKBA International Kickboxing Championship.


Trischa Zorn

Trischa Zorn is an American Paralympic swimmer who was born blind at birth. She is considered the most successful athlete in the Paralympic Games, with over 55 medals to her name. She has 41 fold medals, nine silver medals, and five bronze medals. In 2012, she was inducted into the Paralympic Hall of Fame. Even at the Barcelona Paralympic Games in 1992, she had the most individual medals, with ten gold medals and two silver.

In 2005, she was one of the eight athletes who was celebrated in Times Square at the New Year celebrations in New York City. Even though she’s now retired, she works as a legal professional for the Department of Veteran Affairs, continuing to help those who can’t fend for themselves. She went to college to study special education and also studied law at the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law.


Esther Vergeer

Esther Vergeer is a Dutch athlete who plays tennis while in a wheelchair. Doctors discovered that she had a build-up of excess fluids in her brain which caused a brain hemorrhage. They placed a shunt in her brain, but she continued to experience headaches and pain in her neck afterward. Eventually, she had a stroke a few years later and had another shunt placed in her brain. Doctors then discovered that this fantastic athlete had vascular myelopathy around her spinal cord. They performed surgery to remove it, but she was unable to move her legs.

People consider her the number one in women’s wheelchair singles, having won 48 major titles, 23 year-end championships, and seven Paralympic gold medals. She earned all those titles before her retirement at 41, so she accomplished a lot in her life! Esther Vergeer lost the use of her legs when she was about six years old, and she was taking a swimming lesson when she became dizzy and fell unconscious.


Sarah Reinertsen

Sarah Reinertsen is a former track athlete and a Paralympic triathlete. She was born with a condition called proximal femoral focal deficiency, which is a bone growth disorder that affected her leg. Her leg was amputated above the knee when she was only seven years old. That didn’t stop her dreams, however. She was inspired by Paddy Rossbach, an amputee marathon runner, so she started her career in running at age 11. Sarah Reinertsen entered her first international track meet when she was only 13 and broke the 100m world record for female above-knee amputees.

She was also the first female leg amputee to participate in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. Her first attempt in 2004 led to her being disqualified because she ended the bike portion of the course 15 minutes after the cut-off time. Sarah Reinertsen then entered the following year and ended the course just a little over 15 hours. In 2006, she won the Best Female Athlete with a Disability ESPY Award.

The Sun

Jessica Long

Jessica Long is a Russian-American who is also a Paralympic swimmer. She was born with fibular hemimelia, which is a congenital absence or shortening of the fibula. For this reason, both of her lower legs were amputated when she was 18 months old. Throughout her life, she learned to walk using prostheses, but that didn’t stop her from partaking in cheerleading, gymnastics, biking, rock climbing, and ice skating. She started swimming in her grandparents’ pool in 2002 and entered her first swimming competition in 2003.

Jessica then entered the 2004 Paralympic Games and won 3 gold medals in swimming. She was only 12 at the time and was the youngest competitor for the United States Paralympic Team. One of her gold medals was for the 100m freestyle, where she ended up beating both the Paralympic and world record by 0.19 seconds. This amazing disabled athlete has won over 50 championship medals for her activities in five Paralympic Games over the years.

The Guardian

Ellie Simmonds

Ellie Simmonds gained attention for her talents when she entered the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing. This famous lady is a Paralympian swimmer who earned two gold medals for Great Britain and was also the team’s youngest member, aged only 13. When Simmonds competed in home games in London, she again won two gold medals and even set a World Record for the 400-meter freestyle. When this athlete competed in the Rio Paralympics in 2016, she set another record for the 200-meter medley.

This phenomenal athlete was born with achondroplasia, a genetic condition affecting the body’s growth. It has an effect on the protein called fibroblast growth factor receptor, which is in control of bone growth in the cartilage in growth plates. As a result, a person with achondroplasia will have short arms and legs. Some treatment options include hormones to increase height, as well as surgery if there is an irregular curvature of the spine.


Kyle Maynard

Kyle Maynard is a motivational speaker who was born without his limbs. He has a condition called congenital amputation, where the fibrous bands in the body prevent the development of the limbs. However, this didn’t stop Kyle from achieving whatever goal Maynard set his mind to. He is also a mixed martial arts athlete and the first quadruple amputee to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro without the aid of prosthetics. This drive started at a very young age.

When this phenomenal athlete was in school, he started off participating in youth league football and played the position of nose tackle. By the time he entered high school, he had become interested in wrestling and even won 36 matches in his senior year. Kyle Maynard also brought these talents to college, joining the wrestling team for his college. However, he stopped sports soon after to start working on his book and pursue a speaking career.

Bronx Pinstripes

Jim Abbott

Jim Abbott, also known as James Anthony Abbott, was born without a right hand. However, that didn’t stop him from seeking a major league baseball career. He started young, playing for his high school and then for his college team, the Michigan Wolverines, and his presence helped them to win two Big Ten Conference championships. Jim Abbott also played in the 1987 Pan American Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics, where the team won an unofficial gold medal for the United States.

Afterward, the California Angels selected him in the 1988 Major League Baseball draft. He started rotation as a rookie without having played a single minor league game, which went on to show his talent. In 1992, they traded him to the New York Yankees, where he pitched a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians. Feeling inspired by these incredible athletes with disabilities?

USA Today

Rocky Bleier

Rocky Bleier was a halfback for the NFL Pittsburgh Steeler in 1968 and then again from 1970 to 1980. He was born and raised in Wisconsin and, as he grew older, took a liking to football and baseball. His dream of football followed him to college, where he played for Notre Dame. However, in 1968, Rocky Bleier was drafted into the Vietnam War. While on patrol on August 20th, a single bullet wounded him in the left thigh. While he was down, a grenade exploded nearby, sending shrapnel into his right leg when he tried to leap over it.

As a result, Rocky Bleier damaged his right foot, believing he would never play football again. However, after receiving a postcard from Art Rooney, the owner of the Steelers, he endured multiple surgeries. Plus, Rocky Bleier started physical therapy to regain the use of his legs and foot again. Although he managed to rejoin the Steelers, they kept him on injured reserve. It wasn’t until Super Bowl XIII, where he caught the touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw, that he finally got the recognition he deserved for all his hard work.

US Olympic & Paralympic Museum

Erin Popovich

Erin Popovich is a three-time Paralympic swimmer for the United States. She has won 14 career Paralympic gold medals and 19 total. She, too, was born with achondroplasia, which reduced the growth of her limbs. Throughout her childhood, Erin Popovich wore braces to straighten her back and legs and had to undergo several surgeries. As a child, she was interested in sports and participated in horseback riding, basketball, and soccer. This disabled athlete joined the swim team when she was 12, and by age 15, she was competing in the 2000 Paralympic Games.

Erin Popovich has won three gold and three silver medals in her career. In her time in Sydney, she set four world records for the Paralympics, and they selected her as one of the 12012 Torchbearers for the 2002 Winter Olympics torch relay. At the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, Popovich won an additional four gold and two silver medals. Plus, she broke two world records and two Paralympic records in swimming.


Bethany Hamilton

Bethany Hamilton is an American professional surfer who endured a shark attack in 2003 and survived. The shark bit her left arm completely off, but that didn’t stop her from returning to professional surfing. The shark attack occurred when she was only 13. Bethany Hamilton went for a morning surf. However, while she was lying on her surfboard, talking with her best friend, a tiger shark attacked her, promptly biting off her arm. They promptly rushed her to the hospital, where she received treatment and survived despite losing almost 60% of her blood.

This traumatic event didn’t stop Bethany from getting back on her board and heading back out into the ocean. Only one month after her attack, she was back on the waves. Because of her disability, she had to have a custom board made that was longer and slightly thicker and also had a handle for her right arm. Only 26 days later, Bethany Hamilton entered her first major competition at the start of 2004.


Jim MacLaren

Jim MacLaren, or James MacLaren, was a motivational speaker who won the Ironman triathlon after having his left leg amputated. He started out playing football and lacrosse for his college, Yale University, but his life would change by age 22. While riding his motorcycle, he was involved in an accident resulting in losing his left leg. Jim recovered and then went on to run the marathon in 3 hours and 16 minutes; he also completed the Ironman Kawaii in 10 hours and 42 minutes.

Fate wasn’t done with him yet, however. In 1993, while completing the bike portion of the Orange County Triathlon, he was struck by a van and then collided with a signpost. As a result of his injuries, Jim developed quadriplegia, meaning paralysis in all limbs. The community gathered funds to help MacLaren obtain a van he could drive with his hands. The funds raised were above what was necessary, and they used the rest to start the Challenged Athletes Foundation to help other athletes with disabilities.

House of Sparky

Anthony Robles

Anthony Robles won the 2010-2011 NCAA wrestling championship, despite only having one leg. It’s unclear why he was only born with one leg, but throughout his life, he refused to wear a prosthetic leg for any reason. Because his leg was missing from his hip, Robles decided to take up other exercises to help strengthen the rest of his body. By the time he was in 6th grade, he had set a record for the most pushups by a school member. Anthony Robles definitely impressed everyone!

By the 8th grade, he had started wrestling after watching his older cousins practice. It wasn’t long before he’d developed tremendous grip strength, mostly due to crutches. And because he had an unusually high center of gravity, he could defend himself against any attack, allowing him to focus on more offensive moves to keep the competition on their toes. Feeling inspired by these incredible athletes with disabilities?

Melissa Stockwell

Melissa Stockwell is a swimmer, two-time Paralympic triathlete, and former US Army officer. She competed in three swimming events in the 2008 Summer Paralympics and won a bronze for the 2016 Paralympic Games in the triathlon event. During her sophomore year in college, Melissa Stockwell joined ROTC, and they assigned her to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. Stationed as a first lieutenant, she was the first female soldier to lose a limb in the Iraq War.

The loss of her limb was due to a roadside bomb exploding, but she took all that courage and poured it into being a prosthetist for the military, as well as working on the Wounded Warrior Project from 2005 to 2014. Melissa Stockwell competed in several swimming events for the Paralympics and was the flag bearer at the closing ceremonies. Turning to the triathlon, she won the Women’s TRI-2 (above knee amputee) class and continued to defend her title in 2011 and 2012.