5 People Whose Major Disabilities Only Made Them Stronger
Everyone loves stories about people who achieved fantastic things despite their disabilities; they make us feel better about the human race and, by extension, ourselves. Well, these stories aren't like that. These are about people who not only overcame their horrific disabilities, but did so in such balls-shatteringly unbelievable ways that they make the rest of us look like shit in the process. Prepare to feel completely worthless when compared to the awesomeness of ...
Spencer West Climbs Mount Kilimanjaro with No Legs
About 35,000 people try to climb Mount Kilimanjaro each and every year, but only half have what it takes to make it to the summit. Of course, if you ask most people exactly what it does "take" to conquer the highest free-standing mountain in the world, "a pair of legs" will probably be at the top of their list. Spencer West would disagree.
Because, you see, West has no legs and he climbed the damned mountain anyway.
Oh, so there's a hole there, and he's just standing ... wait, no.
West had his legs removed when he was a kid due to a genetic condition that left his lower spine poorly developed. Where anyone else would have accepted that they were destined to be Fate's punching bag, West decided to dangle over Fate's face in the night and teabag it -- he's made it his mission in life to redefine the meaning of the world "possible," and what could be more impossible than for a legless man to climb a mountain that kills 10 able-bodied people a year and sends back a thousand more on stretchers?
So, in 2012, West and two buddies decided to tackle the 19,341-foot mountain, spending seven days trekking through jungle, snowcaps, and desert, which of course presented a few practical issues: For starters, as you might guess, that's not the type of terrain you would normally associate with the phrase "wheelchair accessible." No problem: For 80 percent of the trip, West just walked with his arms -- and since arms aren't really designed for walking, he had to equip himself with elbow braces and plenty of anti-inflammatory meds to handle the stress. Also, he needed several pairs of sports gloves and shitloads of duct tape to keep the fabric together while he propelled himself forward in short but sustained strides.
He's the one on the right, in front of the archer and Isildur's heir.
Even with that, by the time he reached the summit his hands were all bloody and blistered ... but he says it was worth it, since he was doing all of this to raise money to provide clean water for African kids. Dude, we get it, you're trying to make us feel terrible about ourselves.
Nick Newell, the One-Armed MMA Champion
Like many kids in his generation, Nick Newell loved watching the Ninja Turtles and the Power Rangers and dreamed of growing up to become one of the greatest fighters in the world. The difference was that Newell only had one-and-a-half arms. Another difference? He actually went ahead and fulfilled that dream.
Makes us feel shitty for abandoning the dream of being a wallaby in a Hawaiian shirt.
Newell, who was born without one arm below the elbow, started out wrestling in high school with predictably abysmal results. This only made him more determined, though, and sure enough, it didn't take long for him to dick-slap the odds, winning more than 300 wrestling matches and then transitioning to mixed martial arts, after presumably deciding that wrestling was too easy. Now he's undefeated with a 10-0 record. Again, the dude is missing the better part of one arm. Don't you usually need at least two hands to kick someone's ass in an MMA fight?
Well, yeah, unless you're Nick Newell, who's actually turned the shit sandwich life dealt him into an advantage. His favorite move consists of latching onto his opponent with his left elbow -- the other guy can't grab him and undo the choke because there's nothing to grab, so he ends up getting grappled to the ground and submitting. That's the move Newell used to become the first one-armed XFC champion, by the way.
That other dude went home and bought a chainsaw.
Being shortchanged in the limb department also makes other fighters underestimate him and try to attack him on his left side, unaware that Newell has become really, really good at both blocking there and retaliating with brutal knees to the face. Here's a clip of Newell knocking out another fighter within seconds by doing exactly that.
Newell says that at the beginning of his career no one wanted to get in the ring with him, knowing that the only two possible outcomes were A) they beat the shit out of a cripple, or B) they get the shit beat out of them by a cripple. Presumably by now they don't want to fight him because they're just afraid.
Jim Miekka, the Blind Gunslinger
Yep: This is not a joke headline. Jim Miekka is a retired physics teacher who lost his eyesight in an explosion when he was 26, along with two fingers. Either one of those injuries alone would keep most people out of the shooting range forever, but Jim Miekka's passion for guns just couldn't be denied.
The glasses are just to look cool.
And since there was no way for a blind man to take up shooting as a hobby that didn't result in dozens of lawsuits, Miekka went ahead and invented one: He created a special rifle scope that allows him to recognize black-and-white targets and effectively snipe them suckers with better accuracy than people who can actually see them.
Basically, Miekka's gun acts as his surrogate eyes. As he describes it, his "bionic eye" converts light into electricity and then puts that signal in in a way his brain can decode -- namely, sound. The frequency of the sound tells him where the target is: "I hear tick, tick, tick, and I scan around for black next to white, and very quiet next to very loud." So if he wants to shoot, say, a mime, he waits for the loudest sound (indicating white) and squeezes the trigger. Here's a video of him tagging bowling pins at 100 yards:
And before you get to thinking that Miekka is powerless without some high-tech super scope, you should probably know that even with regular pistols, the guy has an accuracy of 80 percent and has yet to put a hole in anyone. So how the hell does he aim? The old fashioned way. By which we mean he has someone (occasionally) tap just above the target ...
Simulating the heartbeat he no doubt hears in all living targets.
... memorizes where the sound came from, and then blows it away.
The poor bandits' expressions really say it all.
Miekka, who is known as Midnight Gunslinger, can draw, cock, and fire his pistol in about a half-second, which isn't even enough time to fully appreciate the fact that you've just been Huckleberried by the blind Doc Holliday.
Shaquem Griffin, the One-Handed College Football Player
Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin are twins, and they're pretty much the same in every way: They each play college football at the University of Central Florida, they're each awesome at it, and they're each on a scholarship. There's only one small detail ... between the two, they only have three hands.
Shaquem had to have his left hand amputated when he was 4, but that didn't stop him from deciding he wanted to play some motherfucking football, and play it well. Recently, he accepted the Division 1 scholarship from UCF over 21 other college offers. Bear in mind that this is football we're talking about here -- they don't care if you have one hand, five legs, or half a torso, if you suck at the game you get destroyed anyway. Which is fine with Shaquem, because even with just one hand, he can make miraculous catches like this one.
Of course, being good at football isn't just about training on the field, but also about maintaining the necessary physique to withstand tackles, pile-ons, and that thing where the goalie throws the basketball at you and yells "safe" (or is that soccer?). As you can imagine, lifting weights and such can be a little tricky with only five digits, but Shaquem's dad came up with a series of simple but ingenious devices to help his son not end up with one really muscular arm and one really thin one -- like this belt and chain he uses to lift small weights:
He uses it as nunchaku in emergencies.
Or this block he uses for benching, which has a wooden protuberance on one side so it doesn't slide off and decapitate him:
Although, knowing the guy, he'd probably just find some way to play without a head.
As a result, he's made kicking everyone else's ass on the field seem so effortless that when UCF defensive backs coach Kirk Callahan decided to screen Shaquem's play tapes to the other coaches without letting them in on his missing hand, they thought he was full of shit when he told them.
Miles Hilton-Barber Breaks Aviation Records While Blind
This is Miles Hilton-Barber. He's completely blind.
He maintains his perfect hair through sheer force of will.
Do you feel sorry for him? If so, cut that shit out right this second, because, since losing his sight by way of genetic illness in his 30s, that man has done more awesome things than most of us in 20 lifetimes. Like climbing mountains, running across entire deserts, cage-diving with goddamn great white sharks ... oh, and setting tons of records for aviation. Here's the same "poor blind man" from the picture above, walking on top of the wings of a Boeing Stearman biplane:
Well, it's easy for him. He doesn't have to look down.
But Hilton-Barber likes sitting inside the planes, too, more specifically, in the pilot's seat. In fact, at age 62 he became the first blind pilot to fly a microlight plane from London to Sydney, which, if you're not big on geography, is roughly a fucktillion miles. How does a blind man pilot a plane and not crash within the first five seconds? With the help of his nerves of steel, and also science.
Although he was accompanied by a non-blind co-pilot in case of emergency, Hilton-Barber relied mainly on a newly developed system that relays navigational information through speech -- as he explains in this video, he carried a little box of switchers connected to a pair of earphones that let him constantly check on his altitude, speed, distance to destination, and everything else he needed to know to safely fly an airplane halfway across the world without using his eyes. Still, watch this clip of his plane taking off while imagining you're the guy sitting behind, and try not to shit yourself:
On top of that, Hilton-Barber is also an accomplished racer (here's a video of him drag racing with help from a terrified co-pilot), but perhaps the thing he's best at is being a motivational speaker. If a blind man who has flown from England to Australia tells you that you can do anything you set your mind to, you fucking believe him.
Related Reading: These aren't the only folks to exchange their disability for superpowers: three of our best WW2 pilots had no legs. And Sylvester Stallone owes his iconic face to a botched childbirth. You know what CAN screw you for life, though? Being born left handed.