Run. Jump. Swim. Compete.
Erica Silvey can do it all.
This week, Erica, who was born without a fibula in her left leg, is participating in Du Quoin, Illinois, with 130 other similar students at NubAbility Athletics Foundation. The 13-year-old has been playing soccer on a prosthetic leg since she was 5 years old.
One of the ways children with challenges similar to Erica’s assimilate is through interaction with those like them. Being taught by others with limb loss or limb difference helps in the normalization process.
NubAbility is a non-profit organization started with 19 kids four years ago by Sam Kuhnert to serve those with limb differences who are participating and competing in mainstream organized sports.
“Not everyone comes in the same, but the majority of them come in with a positive attitude,” Kuhnert said. “However, some of them come in hiding differences. They’re scared to try new things. After our instruction and drills we put them through, and the one-on-one time with their coaches, they leave with their nubs out of their pockets. They’re not afraid to show it.”
Kuhnert, 22, spent two seasons as a 6-foot-6, 215-pound right-handed pitcher at Morthland College in southern Illinois before an AC joint tear turned him into a full-time college coach. Kuhnert, who was born without a left hand, rests his glove on his nub, puts his right hand in the glove after a pitch and fields with the right hand as well.
A laborious process is whittled down to seconds.
Kuhnert grew up watching left-handed Jim Abbott, who, without a right hand, made it to Major League Baseball, where he pitched for the California Angels for most of his 10-year career.
“My dad played me recordings of Jim Abbott playing, and seeing that I said, ‘If he can do it, I can definitely do it,'” Kuhnert said. “That’s the attitude I had and I was able to play two years of college baseball.”
This will be Erica’s first interaction at a NubAbility camp, but she has participated in Camp No Limits and been befriended by Paralympic athletes, some who are missing four limbs yet can do everything from making a meal to driving a car.
Kuhnert understands the trials associated with learning how to do something, and in the case of sports, how do it quickly and efficiently so there’s no difference between that of an able-bodied person. He was able to benefit early in high school from a freshman football coach who was also born without a left hand.
The confluence of positive role models with disabilities in his life inspired Kuhnert to start NubAbility before even before he started college.
And he hopes it continues to reach more and more kids with limb difference and limb loss, or provide increased visibility that lets those affected know just how much they can overcome and how it carries on through maturity.
“My coach never took it easy on me, if anything, he pushed me harder,” Kuhnert said. “And that’s what we do to our kids. We don’t take it easy on them. We’re going to push them to be the best that they can be. If they fall, they’re going to have to get themselves back up. Kind of like in life, you may fall down, but you build off your failures to find success.”