Levelling the playing field

The disabled athletes giving able-bodied competitors a run for their money

4th April 2018

Watching the Paralympics or Invictus Games with awe, you can’t help but admire the talent, skill, and motivation of the disabled athletes involved. But what’s stopping them from competing with their able-bodied counterparts? At the end of the day, they’re all athletes, aren’t they?

As it happens, there are many examples of disabled athletes competing, and excelling, in able-bodied sports. Here are a few that have defied the odds, and have been successful in their respective sports:

Shaquem Griffin

At the NFL Combine at the beginning of March, an event which sees the best college football players try to impress scouts from professional teams, an unlikely name took all the headlines. Shaquem Griffin was one of the most physically impressive players at the Combine, despite having his left hand amputated.

He bench pressed 102kgs 20 times with the help of a prosthetic hand

Shaquem was born with a condition that resulted in his left hand being amputated as a child. However, this never seemed to deter him from any physical activity, as he starred in track, football, and baseball in High School. His sporting excellence gained him an athletics scholarship to the University of Central Florida with his twin brother.

Blessed beyond measures and highly favored 🙏🏾😎 #AgainstAllOdds

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After continuing to impress at college level, Shaquem was invited to the Combine, where the best college football players from around the country try to show off their skills in front of NFL scouts and coaches. Shaquem ran the 40 yard dash in 4.38 seconds, the fastest ever for anyone in his position. After that, he bench pressed 102kgs 20 times with the help of a prosthetic hand. Shaquem’s impressive display is expected to earn him a professional contract in the NFL for the next season.

Natalie du Toit

Natalie du Toit
Natalie du Toit won gold at the 100m butterfly event at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games

Natalie is a former South African swimmer who was the first female amputee to ever qualify for the Olympics against able-bodied competitors. She lost her leg when she was 17 years-old after a car hit her on her scooter on her way back from swimming practice. Her left leg had to be amputated at the knee.

Natalie narrowly failed to qualify for the 2004 Olympics, but won 5 gold medals and a silver medal at the Paralympics that year. 4 years later, however, she managed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, after finishing fourth in the Open Water World Championships.

Natalie was chosen to be the flag-bearer for the South African team, which also made her the only athlete ever to carry the flag for their country at the Olympics and Paralympics in the same year. She finished 16th in the 10km race at the Olympics, without any prosthetic assistance. Following the Olympics, Natalie won another 5 gold medals at the Paralympics.

Nick Newell

Nick is an American Mixed Martial Arts fighter who was born without his left hand and forearm. After joining his High School wrestling team, Nick became interested in competing in MMA. He has an impressive record as a professional, winning 14 fights while only losing 1. After his most recent victory last weekend, Nick is hopeful of earning a UFC contract in the lightweight division.

Always game #NewellWorldOrder 📸: @lucasnoonan

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Baxter Humby

Known as The One Armed Bandit, Baxter Humby is a Canadian kickboxer who is the only man in the world to win titles with one hand. After his right hand got entangled with the umbilical cord at birth it had to be amputated below the elbow. Baxter has a black belt in Taekwondo, and is the current International Muay Thai Council World Super Welterweight Champion.

In addition to this, The One Armed Bandit is also known for his roles in movies, including being the stunt double for Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 3.

Bethany Hamilton

Her promising career was seemingly over after a vicious attack by a 4-metre tiger shark when she was just 13

Maybe the most remarkable story out of all these inspiring people is that of surfer Bethany Hamilton. Born in Hawaii, Bethany grew up surfing with her family. By eight years-old she was competing in her first competition, and a year later she got sponsored by Rip Curl, one of the biggest surfing company’s in the world. Her promising career was seemingly over after a vicious attack by a 4-metre tiger shark when she was just 13.

The shark bit off her left arm and a large portion of her surfboard. By the time she had made it to hospital she had lost 60% of her blood. A month of recovery later, and Bethany was back on the waves, determined to not let this attack ruin her dreams of becoming a professional surfer. The Hawaiian is still competing professionally, and in 2016 she came third in the Fiji Women’s Pro Competition.

4th April 2018