5 People Who Overcame the F#@% Out of Awful Disabilities
In general, the amount of negativity you encounter on the Internet probably overwhelms the good by a ludicrous margin -- at the time of this writing, we've had to sort through 10 headlines about an Ebola plague just to find that video of puppies trying to play with ice cubes. So, we try to brighten things up from time to time.
For example, as we've demonstrated before, we have sort of a thing for people who, when faced with potentially life-shattering physical limitations, see their "disabilities" as superpowers. So suck on some inspirational stories, Internet!
James Earl Jones Turns a Debilitating Speech Impediment Into ... Well, You Know
Even if you don't know who James Earl Jones is, you know his voice. He's Darth Vader. He's Mufasa. He's the "This is CNN" guy. He's Darth Vader.
What you may not know is just how close the world came to never, ever hearing that voice -- because as a child Jones suffered from a debilitating stutter. Now, normally we wouldn't call something as generally minor as a stutter "debilitating," but in Jones' case, we feel it's entirely warranted (since it's hard to imagine Darth Vader being as menacing that way). As the story goes, when he was just 5 years old, he moved from Mississippi to Michigan with his maternal grandparents after his father skedaddled. Soon after, he developed the aforementioned stutter, possibly because moving a child a thousand miles only to end up in Michigan is considered child abuse in 49 states.
He's Darth Vader.
The speech impediment got progressively worse, until Jones refused to talk to anyone outside of his immediate family. Then it got even worse until, at 8 years old, he simply stopped talking altogether. From the time he was 8 until he was 15, Jones was completely mute.
In actuality, it turns out his voice was just hibernating ...
... so that it could one day emerge from its chrysalis as goddamn Darth Vader.
Though he didn't so much as utter a word for nigh on eight years, Jones was still fascinated by words of the written variety. His teachers tested him solely through written exams, and Jones was a talented poet. A high school English teacher spotted that talent, and leveraged it into a possible cure for Jones' self-inflicted muteness: "If you like the words, you've got to be able to say them," he said, encouraging Jones to read his poetry in front of the class.
Because dunking on fools is way more satisfying when you can trash talk them afterward.
And when he did, the voice that came out was completely stutter-free. It had also changed and grown during those years of going completely unused -- what boomed out was the voice that we all know today: a rumbling bass that circled the classroom like a well-tuned Harley and presumably kick-started puberty in any students present who hadn't hit it yet.
That's the moment when Jones discovered that, as he put it, "The written word is safe for the stutterer. The script is a sanctuary." That was the first step to learning how he could make his weakness work for him, and as a direct result the world would one day gain a truly iconic movie quote to relentlessly beat into the ground for all eternity:
"If Pazuzu comes for you, I will spit a leopard."
Ted Slavin Turns His Contaminated Blood Into an ATM, Helps Develop a Life-Saving Vaccine
Life dumped a truckload of putrid, moldy lemons on Ted Slavin, and Ted Slavin turned right around and made them into a putrid, moldy lemonade empire.
Slavin was a hemophiliac, meaning that he was basically a walking Evil Dead prop -- he was susceptible to bleeding uncontrollably if he got hurt, or just randomly bleeding internally at any time whatsoever, because fuck you, Ted Slavin (said the universe).
"Now finish your fruit or no dessert. Actually, no dessert either way. Because, again, fuck you."
Back in the '50s -- when Slavin was born -- a hemophiliac wasn't expected to live beyond 13. The way to treat the condition at the time was through constant blood transfusions, and because this was the '50s, donor blood might come from your mom, or it might come straight from that homeless guy on the corner with the gangrenous face. (Look at you, being all shocked with all your highfalutin "disease screening.") It wasn't until the '70s that Slavin found out that the never-ending hypodermic gang-banging he'd been on the receiving end of had pumped him chock-full of hepatitis B.
It turns out, Slavin's diagnosis came at precisely the right time -- because by that point, his body had spent two decades producing ludicrous amounts of antibodies to fend off the pesky viral intruders, and the way to test someone for hepatitis B back then was to see how their blood reacted to the very antibodies that Slavin was pumping out in mass quantities. So he stuck a price tag on his blood (10 bucks a milliliter) and went into business with Big Pharma, selling them as much as 500 milliliters a pop -- and demand was through the roof.
If you're wondering why no other hep B patients followed Slavin's path to riches, then we're about to let you in on a sordid little secret about the medical community. See, Slavin was lucky (possibly for the first time ever), because his doctor was kind enough to tell him that his blood was basically infectious liquid gold. Less scrupulous doctors (i.e., the rest of them) would've just continuously milked Slavin for blood samples and cashed it in themselves.
Now, you're probably thinking that Slavin was just a savvy businessman who simply took financial advantage of a horrible situation, but bear with us, because this next part is what elevates his story into the realm of true awesomeness: even as his ultra-profitable antibody factory was cranking out product at full capacity, Slavin looked up Baruch Blumberg, the Nobel Prize-winning researcher who had first discovered the hepatitis B antigen and created the test used to detect the disease. Slavin offered Blumberg all the blood he could possibly need for the hefty fee of zero dollars, just so long as it was used for creating a vaccine.
If he wanted to bathe in it, he would need to find his own stash.
A few years later, the first hepatitis B vaccine went into production ... all thanks to Slavin's putrid, moldy lemonade.
Matthias Schlitte Uses His "Hellboy" Arm to Go Over the Top of His Opponents
Matthias Schlitte was born with a rare genetic bone defect that resulted in either a right arm that's 33 percent bigger than his left, or a normal right arm and a freakishly small everything else.
It's probably the first one, though.
While such a condition would seemingly severely limit one's career choices (we're imagining a high school guidance counselor flipping through his notebook, saying, "Let's see, you've got Ron Perlman stunt double or ... professional half Popeye, half Olive Oyl cosplayer."), Schlitte didn't let something like a lopsided Schwarzenegger-arm weigh him down. Oh no, he fully embraced that shit.
Back when he was but a 3-year-old German lad running around in his adorable little lederhosen, Schlitte discovered that his deformity came with a bonus of extraordinary strength. No, he didn't accidentally crush a puppy like Lennie from Of Mice and Men (though that would be a badass retcon that should definitely be incorporated into his eventual biography) -- he picked up a large bucket of coal and effortlessly carried it to the oven for his mother. Fast-forward to when he was 16 (we'll just skip right past puberty, what with the horrifying penis reattachment incident that we just made up but that should also totally go into said biography). His mother happened across a flier for a competitive arm wrestling event.
They were looking for the strongest men in the area. Her boy was strong. At least, half of him was.
"It's one part genetics, one part punching out anybody who thinks they're clever with the masturbation jokes."
When he entered the competition, the other arm wrestlers giggled at his scrawny frame. By the time it was all said and done, they weren't so much giggling as they were nursing their powdered carpal bones.
Then the arm slept with all their girlfriends while they looked on and cried.
See, since Schlitte's massive, 18-inch-circumference arm is attached to a diminutive, 150-pound frame, his scrawniness allows him to compete in lower weight classes, while his mountain troll arm mercilessly obliterates his competition. So far, Schlitte has done quite well for himself, with seven German championships and 14 international championships to his name. And if you're wondering why we're not afraid he's going to (literally) single-handedly splatter us like bugs for all the shots we've been taking at him, keep in mind that he's willingly adopted the "Hellboy" moniker and has a hell of a sense of humor about the whole thing:
You could say that he's strong-armed his way right into our hearts. He's going to splatter us like bugs now, isn't he?
Tom Dempsey Leads His NFL Team to an Unlikely Victory With a Record-Breaking Kick (and Half a Foot)
While about 10 percent of all people are lefties, it's safe to assume that far, far fewer are what one might call extreme lefties, like Tom Dempsey. You see, Dempsey was born with no fingers on his right hand or toes on his right foot and, as you can imagine, this led to a lifetime of hardships, not the least of which was a childhood tragically devoid of little piggies crying wee wee wee all the way home.
Let's not feel too sorry for Dempsey, though, because Dempsey could kick the sorry out of you by planting his mallet-like right foot straight up your sorry ass.
Then he'd bunny-hop you to the hospital with the other foot, because he's a nice guy.
Dempsey was an NFL placekicker throughout the '70s, and though he was far from the most accurate (which contributed to his playing for no less than five different teams over the course of his career), what he lacked in precision he more than made up for in raw, devastating power. With his special shoe essentially transforming his half-foot into a fairway wood, Dempsey could straight-up sentence a pigskin to death by prolonged flinging.
The ultimate proof of this came on Nov. 8, 1970, during his stint with the New Orleans Saints. Down by a single point against the Detroit Lions with just seconds left to play and nowhere near standard field-goal range (it'd be an absurd 63-yard attempt), the offensive coordinator wasn't overly confident in his quarterback's ability to pull off a Hail Mary pass (and rightly so -- the Saints were a terrible team). So he made a fateful decision: "Tell Stumpy to get ready."
And as you can see, get ready Stumpy certainly did. Dempsey's 63-yard field goal set a record that wouldn't be matched for another 28 goddamn years, and it wasn't until 2013 that somebody managed to (barely) squeak past it. This led to accusations of cheating, with some saying that Dempsey's custom-made Frankenshoe gave him an unfair advantage.
Truth be told, it does look more like a murder weapon than a shoe.
The NFL reacted to the naysayers by instituting the "Tom Dempsey Rule," which states that "any shoe that is worn by a player with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe" -- despite the fact that studies have shown that not only did his shoe offer him no advantage but that the smaller contact area in fact made the near-impossible feat even impossibler. Add to that the fact that, at the time of making the kick, Dempsey was completely hungover from getting gloriously shitfaced the night before, and it's clear that the man deserves to have more than a shitty rule named after him. Like, maybe a flaming shot or something.
One ounce of tequila, half an ounce of schnapps, and five heaping tablespoons of toe jam.
Chuck Close Can't See Faces, Becomes Famous for Creating Giant, Ultra-Realistic Paintings of ... Faces
Chuck Close suffers from a condition we've talked about before: prosopagnosia. Also known as face blindness, those suffering from it are missing the wiring in their brains that allows us to archive people's facial features as a cohesive image -- so they can't tell the difference between their dad and, say, the creepy gas station attendant down the street. This can cause problems, is what we're trying to say.
For instance, Close admits that he once bumped into a woman in public and didn't have the slightest idea who she was ... even though they had been living together. For a year.
"My pet-name for her was 'Hey, What's-Your-Face.'"
You probably think suffering from a rare neurological disorder that renders you incapable of recognizing faces would be a major hindrance to becoming a massively famous portrait artist, in which case we'd ask you, "What does it feel like to be so very, utterly wrong?" Because that's exactly what Close is. Even if you don't recognize his name, you've probably seen some of his gigantic portraits and thought, "OK, now that dude's just taking credit for blowing up a photograph to super-size."
"If you like this, wait till you see my life-size sculpture of the Grand Canyon. It's in Arizona."
Close credits his face blindness as the very thing that led to his astounding artistic abilities. See, his condition means that he can't compute faces as a complete package, but he can break them down into little pieces and memorize the order in which they go together, like a jigsaw puzzle. In fact, that's exactly how he creates his paintings: he superimposes a grid onto a photograph and transfers what he sees onto the canvas, square by square. He found that treating faces this way eventually gave him a photographic memory for their individual features -- so even though he couldn't recognize his own mother if he bumped into her downtown, he could tell you what that weird mole in the lower-left quadrant of her nose looked like in exquisite, hairy detail.
Sadly, when drawing President Clinton, he fucked up and forgot the cigar.
Wait, there's more: since the universe apparently wasn't quite done throwing obstacles in Close's way, it also served him a heaping helping of profound dyslexia. And if you're still not impressed (in which case, maybe it's time to take a little break from the Internet?), back in the late '80s -- at only 48 years old -- Close suffered from a massive stroke that left him virtually paralyzed from the chest down.
But to a preeminent badass like him, that's nothing that simply taping a paintbrush to his hand can't fix -- he says the stroke "didn't make me better, but it didn't stop me."
Is there anything duct tape can't fix?
Carmen Burana is a journalist based in New York. Follow her on Twitter, where she chirps under her real name. Lance Beauregarde has written a book he would like you to read: Flight of the Thought Thief is available through Amazon, and you can follow him on Twitter. He has a blog.
For more stories fit for comic books, check out 7 People From Around the World With Real Mutant Superpowers and 5 Famous People You Didn't Know Have Real Mutant Powers.
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