True heroes are all around us, displaying courage every day and frequently going unnoticed. Some help others, some overcome great odds, and others are simply good role models. My brother is my hero because he is all of the above.
When Thomas and I were little, we used to go to the playground a lot. Kids would be scared of him and ask, “Is your arm broken?”
Thomas would respond by explaining what happened: he was born without a left arm because an amniotic band in the uterus wrapped around it and it lost circulation. If they ran away, he wouldn’t let it bother him.
Thomas is a varsity athlete in both cross-country and track. He helped the cross-country team advance to semi-states for the first time since 1996. He is a 4:46 miler, which with the setback he has makes it an even greater accomplishment. Missing an arm affects his balance, which affects his leg drive. The work he has put in, however, has made up for this. He practices so hard that anything short of success would seem a disappointment. The disadvantages he has overcome always surprise me.
Thomas used to play baseball like it was a religion. His idol was Jim Abbott, a pitcher for the California Angels and New York Yankees. Abbott was a very good pitcher who only had one arm. “I looked up to Abbott because I saw what I could achieve,” Thomas said. Thomas had a lot of trouble giving up baseball for track because he felt like he was taking the easy way out, though he liked track more.
One of Thomas’ best friends, Brad, didn’t even notice Thomas only had one arm for a few weeks after meeting him. He told Thomas that because he carried himself so confidently, Brad felt okay admitting that he hadn’t noticed. I think this says a lot about him. Some people would be very insecure if they were in his shoes. Not only is Thomas a confident person who is not ashamed of his arm, he is often the center of attention in sports and school.
Thomas seems to have accepted his “handicap.” I see it as more of an obstacle, and obstacles can be overcome. Sometimes, if you try hard enough, you can overcome impossible things. As the great distance runner Steve Prefontaine, said, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.