Athletes are athletes, no matter what they need to do to perform at their best.
Disabled professional athletes, whether or not they’re Olympians or Paralympians, have dominated every sport from baseball to track and field by being adaptive athletes and working with what they’ve got to succeed.
Here are nine athletes with physical disabilities who continue to inspire and motivate people with their stories and skills.
Shaquem Griffin made history in April when the Seattle Seahawks drafted him as the first one-handed NFL player.
Griffin had a condition called amniotic band syndrome, resulting in him having his left hand amputated at 4. He uses a prosthetic left hand to play football. Like many adaptive athletes, Griffin told Today he doesn’t like words like “handicapped” because he doesn’t feel restricted in his playing.
Looking ahead to being an NFL player, Griffin wants to be known for more than being one-handed.
“I’m gonna be called Shaquem Griffin the football player, not Shaquem Griffin the one-hand wonder,” he said.
Lindsay Hilton was born without limbs, but joins a list of athletes with physical disabilities who don’t see themselves as “disabled.”
Hilton, who recently got married and is now Lindsay Melanson, has participated in different CrossFit competitions and even plays rugby. She’s able to make her CrossFit dreams possible by using custom designed hardware store chains, Velcro, and straps. She also uses prosthetics.
When it comes to being a successful adaptive athlete, there’s only one thing she strives for.
“I don’t want to be ‘good for someone without arms and legs,’ ” she said to espnW. “I want to be good.”
Rob Camm has never backed down from a challenge.
Camm was paralyzed after a car accident in 2013, but in 2015 he became the first quadriplegic person to finish the Tough Mudder South West obstacle course.
“I’ve got a wheelchair that’s capable of doing it, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ ” he told The Telegraph.
The disabled athlete recently participated in a half marathon in Bristol, England, for the first time to continue challenging himself.
“The key thing for me is keeping busy,” he said to Bristol Live. “I want to keep pushing boundaries and pushing what I can do.”
Rob Jones is like any other Paralympian — nothing slows him down.
While serving as a Marine in Afghanistan in 2010, an IED blew Jones’ legs off and since then, he’s made it his mission to relearn how to do everything from running to rowing with his prosthetics. That determination led to the adaptive athlete to win the bronze medal for rowing at the 2012 Paralympics.
Natalie du Toit
Natalie Du Toit made history when she became the first disabled athlete to qualify for the Olympics.
Although Du Toit began swimming at 14, a car accident at 17 resulted in having her left leg amputated. As du Toit learned to become a differently abled athlete, she competed in the Paralympics and the Olympics. She earned one silver medal and five gold medals at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and five gold medals at the 2008 Summer Paralympics.
Du Toit retired from swimming in 2012, but her impact as a Paralympian and Olympian are still present.
Marla Runyan never let blindness stop her in her tracks.
At 9, Runyan developed Stargardt’s disease, which is a kind of muscle degeneration that causes someone to go blind. But as she grew up, the track and field runner went onto become the first disabled professional athlete to qualify in both the Olympics and Paralympics, winning five gold medals at the Paralympics and finishing eighth at her Olympic debut in Sydney in 2000.
Baxter Humby has spent his entire career as an adaptive athlete.
Known as “The One-Armed Bandit,” Humby was born without his left hand and had his right one amputated at birth. He began running at 11 and later pursued martial arts at 17. He’s gone on to compete for the Canadian Paralympic National Track Team in 1992 and 1994. He’s also the only one-armed kickboxer to win the Canadian Super Welterweight Kickboxing Championship.
Outside of the ring and track, Humby’s taken his differently abled athletic skills to other places, such as working as Tobey McGuire’s stunt double in Spider-Man 3.
Jim Abbott never let the fact that he was born without a right hand get in the way of his baseball dreams.
The disabled professional athlete used to pitch for the New York Yankees, the California Angels, the Chicago White Sox, and the Milwaukee Brewers from 1989 to 1999. Abbott retired in 1999 and now works as a motivational speaker.
Natalia Partyka is no stranger to being both an Olympian and Paralympian athlete.
The table tennis player, who was born without a right hand or forearm, is a differently abled athlete who has gone on to compete in the Paralympics since 2000, as well as the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Summer Olympics. In that time, Partyka has managed to win two gold medals and two silver medals, one of each at the 2004 and 2008 Paralympics.
There’s no slowing Partyka as she’s still making a name for herself as an adaptive athlete in her sport.