Shaquem Griffin had a hand amputated due to a genetic disorder at age four. This season, the Central Florida linebacker was named the AAC Defensive Player of the Year and to the All-AAC first team. (His twin and teammate, cornerback Shaquill, made the second team.) As UCF prepares to take on Arkansas State this weekend in the Cure Bowl, here’s a look at other athletes who refused to let their conditions keep them from crushing it.
“Three Finger” Mordecai Brown
At five, Indiana farm boy Brown got his right index finger sliced off by a grain sorter. The next year, he broke that hand’s remaining fingers, which healed at odd angles. Naturally, he decided to become a pitcher. Somehow this worked out perfectly, as he had a Hall of Fame career highlighted by throwing 20 scoreless innings for the Cubs in the 1907 and 1908 World Series (a.k.a. “the last two they’d won before this season”). While opponents believed Brown’s unique grip made his incredible curve possible, he disagreed: “I always felt if I had a normal hand, I would have been a greater pitcher.”
Pete “The One-Armed Wonder” Gray
This outfielder wasn’t an elite player at baseball’s highest level; indeed, he likely wouldn’t have reached the majors if not for the talent pool’s dilution during World War II. When he got there, many teammates were openly hostile. (After Gray asked for help with one task he couldn’t do himself, pitcher Sig Jakucki told him, “Tie your own shoe, you one-armed son of a bitch!”) Even so, Gray’s story is a triumphant one. He overcame losing his arm in a truck accident at six to dominate the minors, batting .333 with 68 stolen bases in an MVP season. And baseball’s “Miracle Man” was great for at least one day in the bigs, going four for eight with three superb catches during a double-header sweep of the Yankees.
Willie “Jackie Robinson of Hockey” O’Ree
O’Ree became the NHL’s first black player with the Boston Bruins in 1958, but that may be only the second most remarkable thing about his career. Before he reached the NHL, O’Ree had been struck in the right eye with a puck. His doctor said he’d never play hockey again. O’Ree played anyway, knowing his team would cut him if they learned about his limited vision. Indeed, he even played left wing for part of this time—his team randomly moved him to the right, which he called a blessing since he didn’t have to “turn around and look over my shoulder” as often. O’Ree competed at various levels from 1950 to 1979, becoming a WHL All-Star along the way.
Tom “Stumpy” Dempsey
Dempsey decided he would make it as a kicker despite being born without a right hand or toes on his right foot. After San Diego Chargers coach Sid Gillman helped him design a custom boot, Dempsey joined the New Orleans Saints and quickly proved he belonged. Kicking from 1969 to 1979, Dempsey made a Pro Bowl and in 1970 set the NFL record for longest field goal, which stood for 43 years. Ultimately, he received the greatest tribute possible by the “No Fun League”: They passed the “Dempsey rule,” which states a kicker’s shoe “must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe.” (Essentially, future Dempseys must wear footwear with room for their nonexistent toes.) Above you can watch the remarkable 63-yard game-winner as time expires.
Abbott is beloved by Yankee fans for his 1993 no-hitter, particularly memorable since he threw it despite being born without a right hand. Before the bigs, Abbott was easily the best amateur pitcher in the nation, earning the Golden Spikes Award, the James E. Sullivan Award and helping pitch the U.S. to Olympic gold. Indeed, he was briefly one of the top pros in the game, going 18-11 with a 2.89 ERA in 1991 with the Angels. With his remarkably smooth ability to transfer his glove between limbs, Abbott even led the league in fielding percentage for his position. Twice.
Born with one leg, the Arizona State University wrestler became the 2010-11 NCAA wrestling champion in the 125-pound weight class. Indeed, he was so dominant that some fans actually asserted that only having one leg gave him an unfair advantage. (Note: Yes, these fans are dicks.) You can decide for yourself if that’s the case by watching a match—Robles starts scoring points at will around 40 seconds. In his gracious ESPY acceptance speech, he paid tribute to his mother Judy for raising him after she became pregnant at 16 and Anthony’s father abandoned them.
Every athlete who participates in the Paralympics must have an “eligible impairment.” That said, Hamadtou is still pretty unique among these competitors. He lost both arms at 10 in a train accident, but was still determined to play. He initially tried soccer, only to give it up because there was no way to catch himself when he fell. Instead, he embraced table tennis. He competed for Egypt in 2016 and, while he failed to medal, opponents praised him as a “legend.” We can’t argue; dude brings an unnervingly effective game while holding the paddle in his mouth.