About 1.8 million Americans live with amputations. According to Johns Hopkins, most of the amputation procedures performed each year are above- or below-the-knee amputations. While many amputees struggle with dysmorphia and regaining mobility, many take these challenges in stride as they accomplish incredible feats.
Below are five extraordinary people who made amazing accomplishments after having below the knee amputations.
Aimee Mullins underwent double below the knee amputations at a year old as the result of a congenital condition known as fibular hemimelia. But that’s not why people know her name.
Mullins made a name as a sports pioneer as she competed in softball, downhill skiing, and track and field. While in college, she became the first double amputee to compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Mullins began a modelling career in 1998, when she served as one of Alexander McQueen’s muses. She has appeared in fashion magazines, on billboards, and in television and film roles.
Amy Purdy had two below the knee amputations due to septic shock after she contracted meningitis at age 19. Before the procedure, she worked as a massage therapist. She returned to that field after her recovery.
Purdy also took up snowboarding seven months after receiving her first prosthetics. She became a world-class snowboarder and, in 2014, she received the bronze at the Paralympics. Purdy became a professional motivational speaker, author, clothing designer, and actor. She competed in the Amazing Race in 2012 and became the first ever double amputee contestant on Dancing with the Stars in 2014.
In 1999, Glenn Malmskog injured his knee while working on a film in Texas. Though he recovered from his initial injury, he contracted a degenerative bone disease while in recovery. The condition resulted in a below the knee amputation in 2000.
Malmskog has more than 20 years of experience as a stuntman, stunt coordinator, fight coordinator, and explosives technician in Hollywood. In this occupation, he has fallen from more heights and fought with more swords than any other amputee in America. But Malmskog’s achievements don’t just appear on the silver screen. He is also the first amputee to serve as a full duty firefighter in California.
In 1997, surfer Mike Coots was attacked by a shark while bodyboarding in Hawaii. To fend off the shark, Coots reportedly punched it twice in the face. The move saved his life, but he lost his right leg below the knee in the attack.
Coots didn’t let the incident keep him away from the ocean. He returned to surfing only a few months later. He became a professional photographer, known for his striking self-portraits while riding the waves. Coots also works as a shark rights activist, campaigning against finning and culling.
Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth has a lot of firsts under her belt, not all of them good. In 2004, she received extensive injuries when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter she co-piloted was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The attack cost Duckworth both legs—the right was amputated near the hip, while the left was amputated below the knee—and made her the first female double amputee of the war.
Before deployment, Duckworth was working toward a Ph.D. in political science. When she returned home, she began her political career as the Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Since then she has become the first Asian American woman elected to Congress in Illinois, the first member of Congress born in Thailand, and the first disabled woman elected to the House of Representatives.
Amputations cause pain, difficulty, and frustration. However, they do not define a person’s character or capabilities, as these five incredible individuals clearly prove.