When Shaquill and I were four years old in August 1999, Dad decided it was time to sign us up for youth football. This was only a few months after I’d lost my left hand. I’m sure Mom was terrified about me playing tackle football, but I also know she didn’t want me feeling any different from Shaquill. From an early age, Mom and Dad promised to never treat me differently from anyone else, and they never let me use my limb difference as an excuse for not being able to do something. If I couldn’t do a task the first time, they made sure I kept trying until I’d mastered it.
I’m very blessed to have thick skin. I’m even more blessed to have a family that never allowed me to make excuses. Mom and Dad encouraged me to ignore anybody who doubted whether I could do something—especially because of my limb difference. Whether it was tying my shoes, getting dressed, doing my schoolwork, or competing in sports, my parents instilled in me the belief that I could be just as good as anyone, if I put in the time and practice required.
While in elementary school, one of my teachers showed me a video of Jim Abbott, who pitched for ten seasons in the major leagues during the 1980s and 1990s, despite having been born without a right hand. Abbott won a gold medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics and pitched a no-hitter with the New York Yankees in 1993. As I watched videos of Abbott pitching, I couldn’t believe how he effortlessly moved the glove from his right forearm to his left hand after throwing the ball. When I went home from school that day, I went into the backyard and tried to copy Abbott. The first couple of times I ended up throwing the glove and the ball to Shaquill. But you know what? Eventually I figured it out. Remember what I said about never quitting?
I liked baseball and other sports, especially basketball. I could jump high and was able to dribble and pull down rebounds with my right hand. I practiced so much that I became a relentless defender and a good shooter—even with only one hand. I was bigger and stronger than most kids my age, so I muscled my way around the court with sheer desire and determination.
But make no mistake: football was the sport my brothers and I loved to play the most. It’s the sport we played together in the backyard, in the street with our friends, and during recess at school. It’s the sport we went to bed dreaming about. It’s America’s game, right? And to be honest, I never worried about playing football with only one hand. The sport came so naturally to me, and everybody gets tackled the same. I cradled the football in my right arm, and I was just as strong and usually faster than other players on the field. They had to catch me before they could tackle me.