According to the U.S. Census, about 49.7 million Americans have a disability. While the challenges of living with a disability can be immense, there are many who have overcome the odds. And through disability denial, hospital visits, therapy and more, they are hugely successful in what they do. Here are 10 truly inspiring examples of people who lived and achieved tremendous success, despite life altering disabilities.
Although Jim Abbott was born without a right hand, he didn’t let that affect his biggest aspiration: to be a pitcher in Major League Baseball. In 1889, he did just that. After playing baseball at the University of Michigan, Abbott joined the California Angels, even though he never played one minor league game. Abbott went on to play for many teams in the league, including the New York Yankees from 1993 to 1994. During his time on the Yankees, Abbott pitched a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians. Abbott finished his career with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1999, and currently works as a motivational speaker. By persevering against the odds, Abbott made it in the big leagues and competed like anyone else.
At age 13, Matthew Sanford’s life changed forever. A car accident killed his sister and father and left him forever paralyzed from the chest down. Though his doctors told him to “forget his lower body,” Sanford maintained hope. At age 25, he discovered yoga and learned the true power of the connection one has between their mind and body. Now, Sanford is the founder of Mind Body Solutions, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation that teaches others about the importance of connecting the mind and body. He also works as a motivational speaker and shares his story in hopes of inspiring others who have endured similar experiences.
Being born without a limb is hard to imagine, but not for Nick Vujicic. Vujicic was born without arms or legs, but appreciates every second of his life. And though he was picked on and teased as a child, Vujicic never gave up faith that he would make a difference in the world. Born in Australia, he recently made the move to the U.S. where he is the president of Life without Limbs, an international 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to sharing hope and love with people everywhere. Vujicic has traveled around the world, sharing his story and speaking to groups of varying sizes.
Though Marla Runyan is legally blind, she was determined to run her life, literally. Her vision started wavering at age nine, and though doctors told her she would probably never get above a “C” in school and would never attend college, but she perservered. She was very athletic and got involved in running, and when she was eleven, she ran her first race, and, as they say, the rest is history. Runyan grew to be a marathon runner and two-time U.S. Olympian from 1999 to 2006. Now, Runyan speaks at conferences, banquets, fundraisers, commencements and more, discussing the challenges she faced growing up, while training and participating in various marathons as well as the Olympics.
As you might imagine, dancing with one leg would seem to be extremely difficult. But Sudha Chandran makes it look easy. She began dancing at the age of five and never looked back, even after an accident and infection of a wound resulted in the amputation of her leg. With the help of an artificial leg, Chandran regained her strength and decided to continue on as a dancer and eventually an actress. Despite her disability, Chandran achieved the success she dreamed of with her dancing, and beyond, with her acting.
At the ripe age of eight, Stephen Hawking knew what he wanted be when he grew up: a scientist. With an interest in studying the universe, Hawking attended Oxford University in England and went on to earn a Ph. D from Cambridge University in England. During his college years at age 21, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a disease that attacks the nerves that have power over your body’s chosen movements. Though he was given two years to live, Hawking beat the odds and made major scientific discoveries, held teaching positions and more. Now, Hawking cannot move much at all, and uses a special computer to type what he wants to say. But he hasn’t let his impairment stop him from pursuing his dreams, making him an inspiration for many.
Though Dummy Hoy was deaf, that did not stop him from keeping his eyes on the prize: playing for Major League Baseball. Hoy began his professional baseball career in 1886 and played for several teams until 1902. While in the league, he hit the second grand slam in the American League with Chicago White Stockings in 1901. And perhaps most notably, Hoy was a pioneer in the creation of the hand signals that are still used today in baseball.
Geri Jewell’s sense of humor is infectious, and she was able to share it with the world despite her disability. Jewell, who has cerebral palsy, was the first person with a disability to have a regular role on a prime time television series, with her role as “cousin Geri” on the NBC sitcom, “The Facts of Life”. She was also the first actress with cerebral palsy to be featured on television. She went on to appear on many other television programs, and now works as a motivational speaker, as well as a disability and diversity trainer. Thanks to Jewell, the precedent has been set for disabled people in the television industry.
Bethany Hamilton grew up in Hawaii, with the ocean and surfing a huge part of her life. When she was eight, Hamilton entered her first surfing competition and she won, which piqued her interest in surfing. When she was thirteen, Hamilton was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark while surfing, which left her with a severed left arm. Though she lost 60 percent of her blood, she made it through surgery and had a positive attitude about the incident, and only one month later, returned to surfing. She has gone on to win 2nd place at the World Junior Championships in Sydney, Australia, and now her story is being featured as a major motion picture entitled, “Soul Surfer,” after her autobiography.
Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox grew up loving hockey and dreaming of being a professional player. But as a teenager he took a liking to creative writing and acting. He debuted as a professional actor at age 15 and at age 18 moved to Los Angeles, ultimately landing a role on NBC’s Family Ties. During his seven-year stay on the show, he won three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe, resulting in his prominence as a young actor. He went on to star in ABC’s Spin City, and won a plethora of awards and honors. But in 1998, the actor disclosed his battle with Parkinson’s disease, though he had been diagnosed a whole seven years earlier. He now commits most of his time to Parkinson’s research and is still in demand as an actor, proving he does not let his disease control him, but the other way around.
As you can see, there are many people who have overcome the odds despite their various disabilities and possible disability denial… And that means you can, too!
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