Archives For jim abbott

I Am Not One-Armed

July 19, 2012 — 49 Comments

I am not a “one-armed” anything.

A recent article about a limb-different boy in Texas winning his events at a swim-meet has people talking about the mis-use of the term “one-armed.”  Ben Ramirez clearly has two arms, but is missing part of one; like me.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend – Ben Ramirez

So, what’s the deal?  Why does the media default to “one-armed” when there’s any kind of arm limb-difference?  Jim Abbott even spoke to the phenomenon in his book, Imperfect.  Jim has nearly two full arms, but a malformed left hand, and still he was referred to as a “one-armed pitcher.”

“One-Armed” Olympic Champion Pitcher, Jim Abbott

In fact, I very deliberately chose the domain because, well…it’s accurate.  I didn’t choose or IWishIHadAnotherArmWhichWouldActuallyGiveMeTwoAndAHalfArms.ThatSeemsGreedy.Org because my arm is not really the issue.  Plus, that last one is really long.

And as obvious as it may seem to us that “one-armed” is the wrong term to use, I’m going to be honest with you here and say…I understand it.  I understand it because I’m still getting used to all the terms myself.  Eight months ago I had never heard the term “limb-different.”  Never.  In my whole life.  When I started visiting message boards and different online groups, it was like learning a foreign language.  LBE?  RBK?  I’ve learned that those mean Left Below Elbow and Right Below Knee (amputees).  (I bet somebody has a super sweet grid of all these terms somewhere.  I want it.)  Just today, in fact, I got an email from someone who used AK in his note and I had to think hard about what it meant.  Ahh, Above Knee!  And I’m still a novice at all the other terms like Symbrachydactyly.  I just googled that and had to look at it seven times to make sure I spelled it correctly.

It’s a whole different world, this limb-different community.  It’s fun and exciting for me, but there are times I feel lost.  And ignorant.  I am limb-different and can probably tell you less about the science and terms and lifestyle than a ton of the moms around here!  But, I suppose that makes sense.  I grew-up this way and never thought of myself as different, so why would I take the time to learn about it?  My mom, on the other hand (so to speak), probably knows more about it than I do, too.

So, I’m thinking two things.  The first is that we need to be patient.  We need to understand that differences are always a challenge and people generally do their best to treat them with respect and dignity.  That said, it’s also an opportunity for us to teach!  To teach those who are different than we or our kids are how to approach our differences accurately and with respect.  You wouldn’t describe someone with blonde hair as “black-haired” and think it was good enough.  “I mean, hair is hair, right?” you might think.  And you’d be wrong.  And someone would correct you.

I don’t view this as a fight at all.  It’s an opportunity.  Let’s seize the opportunity and learn together.

Also, please don’t buy the domain  I’m saving-up for it.

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I’ve always loved sports cards.

As a kid, it was all about finding cards of my favorite players.  There weren’t very many brands, so you bought Topps or Donruss and that was about it.  I specifically remember buying a triple-pack of 1987 Topps baseball cards at a Madison Muskies game when I was ten and rifling through them over and over.

Wally Joyner’s 1987 Topps card.

I’ve written before about my Jim Abbott collection and I always collected Robin Yount cards because he was (and still is) my favorite Brewer.  In the early ’90s, though, card collecting became about the “chase cards.”  The inserts.  We started to break open packs, and even entire boxes, without even looking at the “common” cards.  We just wanted the rare ones because they were worth the most.  And there were about a million different brands and styles and sets and…you name it, they made it.  It became so confusing.

The thrill shifted from opening a pack and finding cool cards of the players you liked, to finding a rare card worth hundreds of dollars.  And that makes sense.  I mean, it also explains our obsession with shows like Storage Wars and Pawn Stars and American Pickers.  Even their predecessor, Antiques Roadshow, captures my attention if I’m flipping around.

We all have that fantasy of finding an original Van Gogh at a garage sale or a box full of money tucked away in the attic.  Chances are, though, that’s not going to happen.  But it could…and that’s the allure, right?  I think we need to remember to enjoy the common things in life, though, and then if we’re surprised by something out of the ordinary, it will be that much more rewarding!  Whether that’s a rare baseball card pulled from a fresh pack or an unexpected visit from your wife at lunch, it means so much more when we re-learn to enjoy the common, everyday aspects of life.

Without further ado, here’s how I open packs of sports cards:

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The ball felt good when it left my hand.


Apparently it wasn’t as good as I thought it was.

The kid at home plate dropped his bat, reached for the middle of his back, and crumbled to the ground in a heap.  He started crying immediately.  I just stood on the mound while everybody ran to him to make sure he was alright.  Starting to get emotional, I saw my uncle walking out to me.  “Did you mean to hit him?” he asked.  I said no, of course.  “I knew that already, because if you meant to hit ‘im you would’ve hit ‘im in the head,” he said as he winked and cracked a smile.  I smiled, too, through tears, and understood his point. I didn’t mean to hit him.  It was an accident.  That’s baseball.

Like any one-handed boy growing-up playing baseball in the late ’80s and early ’90s (that narrows it down some, doesn’t it?), I idolized Jim Abbott.  Every morning I flipped to the back of the sports section to see how the Angels were doing and if Jim was pitching soon.  I collected every one of his baseball cards and bought the Scholastic book from school.  The card shop owner where I purchased most of mine even surprised me one day with an autographed picture of Jim!  I still have it all.

Why did I sign my name like that?

I stopped playing once I reached my teens, but still loved the sport and followed Jim.  As his career petered out, Jim became a hero of days gone by.  A hero I’d still like to meet someday.  So, when I heard last year that he was writing a memoir, all those memories returned.  I’ve been looking forward to Imperfect and it did not disappoint!

Imperfect is such a well-written book.  Jim (and Tim) takes us through his no-hitter with the Yankees in 1993 one inning at a time, interspersed with stories of his childhood, pitching at the University of Michigan, winning a gold medal in the Olympics in 1988, and his professional career.  It flows nicely and each part seems necessary.  280 pages, no filler.

Reading Jim’s book was an incredibly interesting experience for me.  My lack of a left forearm has never been an issue.  Never.  It was never something I thought about, it never stopped me from doing anything, I never had horrible experiences of being or feeling like an outcast because of it, I never (consciously) felt like I had to prove anything to anyone because of it…never.

Jim did.

It was eye-opening for me to hear about Jim’s insecurities with his hand.  He was very self-conscious and perhaps more self-aware than I ever was growing-up.  “I remember points along the way.  I remember the faces, the events, the casual observations of classmates.  I remember the long stares.  And being glad my jeans had pockets.  I remember the kids who took one look at me and said, ‘Your hand looks like a foot,’ observations that amused them to no end and yet for me had become a part of te routine.  And I remember baseball coming to find me, pulling me along,” he writes.  He had a difficult time coming to terms with his physical condition and that was powerful for me because I’ve had such a different experience.

I admire Jim’s vulnerability in Imperfect.  He shares his successes and his regrets alike, both with honesty.  I was surprised to learn about the situation that led to his departure from the Angels and appreciated his candor in telling how much he wished it had gone differently.  And I laughed out-loud when he told about the impression he did when jogging to the dugout during his no-hitter.

The end of chapter 13, though, was my favorite part of Imperfect.  In it, he talks about…the kids.  “I didn’t see them coming,” he admits.  “I didn’t expect the stories they told, or the distance they traveled to tell them, or the desperation revealed in them.  They were shy and beautiful, and they were loud and funny, and they were, like me, somehow imperfectly built.  And, like me, they had parents nearby, parents who willed themselves to believe that this accident of circumstance or nature was not a life sentence, and that the spirits inside these tiny bodies were greater than the sums of their hands and feet.”  Amazing.  He goes on to talk about his routine of meeting kids in every city and how it affected him as a person.

I’ll tell you right now that the most difficult part of the book for me was reading Jim’s own recounting of his decline as a pitcher.  It was literally painful at times.  You can feel the desperation and frustration in his story telling and even though you know how it ends, you want to believe that fastball comes back.  It was even worse for me because I’ve grown-up a Brewers fan and that’s where he realized he was done; crummy ol’ County Stadium in Milwaukee.  I felt bad that he had such a crappy time in Wisconsin, but…they were really bad at the time.

Lastly, I was intrigued by Jim’s concern for his wife and daughter.  “I had accepted my disability.  I wasn’t sure if I had the authority – or the courage – to accept a disability for a son or a daughter, too,” he said.  He worried about passing on his disability and went so far as to get genetic testing to rule it out.  In this way, Jim is much more selfless than I am.  I never thought about any of that when my wife and I started having kids.  The difference, though, is one of experience, I think.  Mine was relatively easy, so it didn’t matter to me.  Jim’s was difficult, so he was much more aware and sensitive to it.

As a unique talent, Jim always wished to be known for his ability as a pitcher and not as a “one-armed pitcher.”  He desired normalcy, though came to realize that his normal, though different than others’, was and is just as important; if not moreso.  I love one of Jim’s conclusions as the result of his no-hitter: “In homes from Anaheim to Baltimore, in places where children wished only to be normal, to fit in, maybe the world took another step toward them, not away,” he says.

There is no doubt, Jim Abbott has made the world a better place.  Not just because he threw a no-hitter, but because of the man he was and is.

Thanks, Jim.

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My wife and I were walking through the mall together when out of nowhere I hear, “Ryan Haack?!”  Since that’s my name, I looked in the direction the voice came from.  A young woman stood there smiling and waving.  “Hi!” I said.  I didn’t say her name.  I couldn’t remember it.  Eventually I figured out we went to elementary school together.  It was nice to catch-up, but afterward I felt bad.

“I hate when I can’t remember people,” I told Julie.

“Well, it’s not really fair,” she said.

“How so?” I wondered aloud.

“I mean, we all have an advantage.  You’re pretty easy to remember,” she said.

I stared.

“Because of your arm!  Jeez.”

Then I got angry.

Ok, not really.  But, she’s totally right!  You two-handers have the upper-hand (as it were) when it comes to remembering those of us with a limb-difference.

You’re welcome.

The truth is, anybody with a pronounced difference, physical or otherwise, is memorable.  Could be a big nose or a bald head, Leno’s chin or Angelina’s lips, Conan’s fiery locks or Arnold’s bouncing pecs.  Then there’s that total jerk.  Oh, and that super nice lady.  The one with the laugh.

So, what makes you memorable?

I was recently in Nashville at the StoryLine conference with Donald Miller and we talked a lot about living a better story.  To me, living a better story makes you different.  It makes you memorable.

We heard from a variety of people who are living better stories.  There was Al Andrews, a successful therapist who decided his dream was to become a philanthropist.  One problem: philanthropists need money in order to give it away.  Al didn’t have it.  So, he started Improbable Philanthropy.  His first venture was to write a children’s book and all the proceeds will be given to charity (buy here).  A noble beginning.  Then we heard from Jamie Tworkowski.  In 2006 Jamie met a young woman struggling with depression and self-injury.  He wanted to help, so he wrote a story and then put the title of it on shirts to sell and raise money for her treatment.  Eventually, Jamie founded the organization To Write Love On Her Arms; the title of his story.  TWLOHA “is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.”  The reach of TWLOHA is growing exponentially and those in need are being helped.  What an amazing story!

Then there’s Bob Goff.

Bob is the kind of guy you just want to be around.  All the time.  I mean, his sweet wife would probably have to push me out of their bed if I had my way.  Bob just released a book, Love Does, wherein he shares some of his more famous stories.  Like how he became the consul for the Republic of Uganda…by accident.  Or the one abut the parade.  See, one year Bob’s kids were talking about how boring New Years Day was, so he asked what they wanted to do.  One of his daughters suggested having a parade.  Bob thought it was a great idea, so they dressed-up and out they went, inviting all the neighbors.  One rule, though: You can’t watch.  You can only be in the parade.  A perfect metaphor for life; we’re all in this together.  And for years now, the New Years Day parade has grown.  Families who have moved out of the neighborhood fly back to San Diego just for the parade! Here’s this year’s:

Personally, I was blown away when, as I walked-up to greet him, he looked at me and shouted, “Ryan!”  He gave me a great big hug.  “I love reading what you’re writing!” he said.  Me.  Ryan.  A guy he’s never met.  Bob knows thousands of people, many of them world leaders, and yet he recognized me from our few Twitter connections.  And I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I was wearing my LOH shirt.  Either way, I felt loved and cared for and encouraged by this man I was meeting for the first time.

Me and Bob

Me and Bob

Everyone says Bob is one of the best story tellers in the world.  But you know why that’s even a possibility?  It’s because he lives great stories.  He has them to tell, because he lives them.  And while it’s tempting to whine, “But he knows way more amazing people than I do and he has more money and influence and opportunity…I could never do the things he does,”  I implore you not to.  I’ve done it.  While reading the incredible stories of limb-different people like Josh Sundquist and Kevin Connolly and Jim Abbott, I’ve thought to myself, “Why would people want to hear about my life?”  Well, here’s a secret:

It’s not about me.

It’s about other people.  When we help other people, we live better stories.  And when we live better stories, people remember us.  Know why?

Because most of us aren’t living very good stories.

Most people are letting life push them around; me included.  It’s time to be more intentional.  It’s time to be known for more than a big nose or a strong chin or a missing left hand.  It’s time for you and me to choose to live better stories.  To discover good ambitions and overcome conflict and help other people; to make a difference in the lives of those around us.

I’m fine with being recognized because of my arm, but I’d like to be known for much more.

Don’t you?

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