5 People Who Succeeded At The One Thing They Couldn't Physically Do
If you were to wake up tomorrow and find someone had chopped off your hands, that would be a bit of an inconvenience. Really, it might spoil your whole day. Your life wouldn't be over of course, but you might have to revise your plans to lead your team in the NBA Finals.
Unless, that is, you decide you'd play in the finals anyway, and you win. Then, you might end up on today's article.
The Violinist With No Arms
Carl Herman Unthan was born in 1848 in East Prussia, which is sad way for anyone to start their life. Also, he was born without arms. The expected way for someone without arms to get by in those days was to wear prostheses, which did exist even back then. Unthan never did, and since he went on to be pretty famous and to speak to amputees on how to live, his choice raised some controversy.
Unthan did everything with his feet. He could shoot a rifle with his feet, aiming at tiny targets. He could uncork a bottle and serve wine with his feet, which is surely someone's fetish. He could sew with his feet, which was just showing off, because he had a wife, and most married men at the time never learned to sew at all. Oh, and he played the violin.
Let's elaborate a little on why that's so hard. Playing the piano or xylophone with your feet would be hard (Unthan played both), but you can picture how that boils down to hitting the right keys. Playing a guitar would be a lot harder—one foot must strum, while the other would handle what we normally call fingering. But at least with a guitar, the string presses down on frets, those metal bands across the neck. You don't have to press one exact part of the string; you can press anywhere between two frets and the string will play the same note. A violin has no frets. Your fingering (toeing) must be precise, and even the width of the digit you use can totally change the instrument's sound.
The first time Unthan played the violin for an audience, one of the strings broke. He stayed on the stage and mended the violin, replacing the string with a new one. Possibly, this feet feat demanded less skill than actually playing the instrument well, but the audience, who expected nothing like this, found repair work the most impressive part of the performance. So after that, Unthan made it a point to break a string every night, this time on purpose, so he could replace it while the crowd cheered.
A Painter Without Arms Or Legs
What's harder than having no arms? Having no arms or legs of course, like Sarah Biffin, born with a condition called phocomelia, which you might know best as the one hitting thalidomide babies. Lacking any working limbs as part of a family of farmers in the 18th century, Biffin's prospects weren't high. When she was 13, her family "apprenticed" her to a "conductor" named Emmanuel Dukes, which is to say that they gave her up to be exhibited in freak shows.
Besides just being there to be stared at, she carried out tasks the one way she could—using her mouth. As the audience watched, she wrote and (hey, this trick again) sewed. Then Dukes offered her a paintbrush, and she really showed some skill. Here are a couple paintings of hers, which may not conform to traditional art styles but clearly show some creativity:
Wait, no, sorry. Those are actually paintings done by Bini, a bunny with its own YouTube channel. Sarah Biffin, despite having a name that makes her sound like a bunny, painted a lot better than that. Below is a self-portrait she did in 1830:
Biffin is 44 in the above painting, but she spent several years painting while still under contract to Dukes, advertised with tasteful handbills like this one:
At 26, she became a free woman, and her painting career took off. She opened up her own studio. The Royal Family hired her repeatedly, and she painted Queen Victoria. Charles Dickens namedropped her in three separate novels.
We figure no painter will ever again overcome exactly what Biffin did, simply because lacking arms or legs will never again be the same handicap that it was in 1784. Back then, they didn't even have motorized wheelchairs, as steam-powered chairs were deemed "too cool to exist." Mouth painting's still a thing today, though. Here's one painting by Netta Ganor, an Israeli artist largely paralyzed from the shoulders down since the age of 15: