No matter their age, one of the biggest fears of an amputee is that they will never be able to do the things they love the most; that their prosthetic will keep them from having a ‘normal’ life. However, there have been many professional athletes who needed to undergo a life-changing amputation yet still found the drive and courage to continue to compete and succeed. In fact, some athletes believe that their amputation gave their life even more meaning than before and helped them find their true identity in the face of challenge and turmoil.
With the Winter Olympics upon us, here are the stories of three Paralympic athletes who defied the odds, turning their disability into their greatest strength:
1. Jeremy Campbell: Despite being born without his right fibula and having his leg amputated when he was a year old, Jeremy Campbell grew up as a very active child. In high school, he was the quarterback for his football team and a point guard on the basketball team in Perryton, TX.
In 2003, Campbell was introduced to the Paralympic Movement, where he showed superior skills in discus and the pentathlon. Five years later, Campbell participated in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, where he won a gold medal in both discus and pentathlon and came in 4th place in the long jump. Campbell also competed in the 2012 London Paralympics, winning a gold medal in discus, as well as in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, coming in 4th place in discus.
Campbell’s inspiring success as a three-time Paralympian, coupled with winning three gold and two silver medals in the World Para Athletic Championships (fka International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships) between 2006-2017 lead him to be featured in the 2011 ESPN Magazine Body Issue and win an ESPY Award for Best Male Athlete with a Disability in 2013.
2. Kelly Cartwright: In 2004, at the age of 15, Australian Kelly Cartwright was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that originated in her right knee. In order to give her the best chance of survival, doctors made the call to amputate her right leg above the knee. Shortly after her surgery, Cartwright was fitted for a prosthetic leg and, after a year of strenuous rehabilitation, she decided it was time to get back to doing what she loved most – competing and being an athlete.
Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Cartwright was an avid netball player (an offshoot of basketball that is the most popular women’s sport in Australia) and dreamt of playing for the Australian netball team someday. With netball now not being an option, Cartwright decided to focus on being able to run again. Outside her home, Cartwright and her father drew track lines up to 50m where she practiced her running day in and day out. After completing her first track competition, Cartwright ran 100m in 30 seconds in her walking prosthetic – she did not know that running prosthetics existed. After this triumph, Cartwright was fitted for a running prosthetic and entered in the Paralympic talent search in 2007 for the 2012 London Paralympics. However, she wound up qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and finished in 6th place in the 100-meter event.
Three years later, Cartwright participated in the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships and won gold in both the 100m race and the long jump (along with setting a world record in the long jump). Her athletic success didn’t end there….she qualified for the 2012 London Paralympics where she got a silver medal in the 100m event and a gold medal in the long jump while breaking the world record – her record – again.
In addition to her Paralympic achievements, Cartwright became the first female with an above-the-knee amputation to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2009 and appeared on the Australian version of Dancing with the Stars.
3. Amy Purdy: Born in Las Vegas, NV, Amy Purdy has been tearing up mountains with her trusty snowboard since the age of 15. However, at the age of 19, Purdy contracted bacterial meningitis and had both of her legs amputated below the knee.
Purdy never let this drastic change in her lifestyle stop her from getting back on the slopes. At the time, there weren’t any prosthetics that were versatile enough to allow her to snowboard, so with great determination, she decided to build her own set. In her journey to move forward from her double amputation and regain a normal lifestyle, Purdy co-founded the Adaptive Action Sports non-profit organization in 2005 to help those suffering from physical challenges participate in high-action sports.
In 2011, Purdy competed in two different World Cups in snowboarding, finishing in first place in France and in third place in Canada. With a new taste for victory, Purdy continued competing in snowboarding, taking first place in the 2012 Para-Snowboard World Championships, second place in the 2013 U.S. Paralympics Snowboard Cross National Championships and receiving a bronze medal in the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games as some of her biggest athletic achievements.
In addition to these high-profile sporting events, Purdy has fueled her competitive nature by appearing on The Amazing Race and Dancing with the Stars, along with launching a clothing line, writing a book, landing acting roles and inspiring people as a motivational speaker.
At Alabama Artificial Limb & Orthopedic Service Inc. (AALOS), we’re committed to helping our patients gain the confidence in themselves and their prosthetic to enjoy everyday activities and live normal lives. Thanks to the advancement of prosthetic limb technology, amputees have the ability to do just that. Though it may take great determination, practice, and rehabilitation, pursuing competitive sports after the loss of a limb is more than achievable. These Paralympians didn’t let their prosthetics get in the way of their success and neither should you.