John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Those who know Tom Southall’s story might wonder what he would have done if he had been born with both arms.
The 1981 Steamboat Springs High School graduate won 12 letters in four sports. He helped the Steamboat track team and football teams bring home state titles. He set records for rushing, led the basketball team in assists and steals on a regular basis and was named Colorado High School Athlete of the Year.
He accomplished all of this despite the fact that he doesn’t have a right arm below the elbow.
The funny thing is that while most of us wonder how much better he could have been with two full arms, Tom prefers to focus on who he is.
In fact, when Tom was a senior, he wondered if he would have been as good if he were born with both arms. He wondered if he would have worked as hard — he wondered if he would have been as driven.
Truth is that what most of us would think of as a limitation is just a part of who Tom was and is. His family supported him as a youth, and while it was difficult to accept that Tom only had one full arm, they never wasted time wondering what could have been.
His family viewed Tom’s “handicap” as something that made him special. He approached life growing up in Steamboat Springs just like any other child, and when the time came to play sports, he didn’t look for excuses — he simply overcame his limitations by finding a new way to accomplish the things that other athletes took for granted.
He taught himself how to catch a football, he trained hard so that he would be faster and quicker, and he worked out in the gym to gain weight and get stronger. Instead of saying he couldn’t do a bench press, he worked with coach Carl Ramunno to develop a prosthetic arm that allowed him to do it. When a doctor told him it was too dangerous to play football, his coaches used a kneepad to protect his arm and still allow him to catch a football.
Coach Mark Drake still remembers when he was asked to be an assistant for an all-state football game that Tom was playing in. The head coach didn’t want to use Tom on offense, fearing that he would not catch a pass, might drop the ball or might get hurt by a hard hit while attempting to carry the ball.
Despite Drake’s suggestions that Tom should carry the ball, the head coach refused to listen. Finally, Drake gave in, but since he was in charge of the defense, he told the coach he was going to use his player as a defensive back. The coach said fine.
“He (Tom) ended up intercepting the ball and running it back 60 yards for a touchdown,” Drake said. “He just cut through every attempted tackle. Tom never failed to amaze me with all the things he could do.”
The fact is that Tom was ahead of his time. In today’s world, there are many young athletes who face their limitations head on and make the most of what they have thanks in part to the example that athletes like Tom Southall created.
Instead of letting their limitations define who they were, they changed the way the world viewed them and others with disabilities. In Tom’s case, he simply refused to be limited on the field or anywhere else for that matter.
Today, the old timers in Steamboat Springs understand it was his accomplishments in spite of his limitations that really made the Steamboat graduate stand out, and it was those accomplishments that have defined him.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966