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 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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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.
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 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, 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.
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 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.