No Arms, No Legs, No Problem

The Executive Producer walked towards me almost apologetically. My story was going to change, he said. I was going to a middle school football game where one of the players didn’t have arms or legs. My first question was, how does he play? He didn’t really know.

I tried to hide my relief after being assigned a feature story, a rarity in this newsroom. I had been at the station for less than two months and needed a reprieve from all of the death and destruction that had become the usual subject of my days.

A bake sale and cacophony of squealing pre-teens were in full swing by the time we arrived at Stetson Middle School. It was the last seventh grade football game of the season. The late change to my story meant no one knew we were coming. Once they learned we were there to tell Gaven Toney’s story their eyes lit up.

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Gaven Toney does not have limbs far beyond his elbows and knees. As he made his way to the sidelines for our interview a chorus of three or four female classmates said, “Hiiiii Gaven” in unison. Gaven maintained his cool by acknowledging the high pitched greeting with a slight smirk, head nod and a quick hello back. As he got closer to me wearing his number 14 jersey, Gaven let me know he had a fan club. Confidence was certainly not an issue for this twelve year old boy. I extended my hand for a fist bump. I was advised earlier that was the usual greeting.

This was Gaven’s first season playing football. He’s previously played other non contact sports, but first had to convince his mother before joining the team.

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“Usually I’m hoping he doesn’t get hurt and that he gives his all every time he tries it, no matter what,” Gaven’s mother Jeanelle Toney said.

There’s no effort lacking when it comes to Gaven’s performance. On the sidelines he’s focused, itching to be put in the game. A defensive tackle, his job is to clog the holes and create a pile.

 

“If they discount me,” Gaven said about his opponents, “then you will be laying on the ground, either in pain or you might be looking at stars for a little bit.”

A novice to the game, Gaven toughness quickly made him a leader. While his teammates tower over him, it’s Gaven they look up to.

“I watched the (Philadelphia) Eagles and DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews,” Gaven said. “I’m like if he can do stuff like that, I want to come out and see if I can put in the work. And I tried to see what happens.”

Why not? Gaven does not have a specific condition. He was born without arms or legs. He says after twelve years, it’s a reality he’s used to. His swag alone makes it clear that he doesn’t consider it a disability.

“As a teacher you’re not ever going to make a lot of money. But it’s moments like this and (it’s) being around kids like this that money can never replace,” Coach Mitch Hoffman said. “Gaven is a kid that I will remember for the rest of my life.”

At twelve years old Gaven demonstrates how boundaries are often self imposed. He choses to find ways around them even when games, like this last one of the season, ends with a loss.

“This is the pre show,” Gaven said. “Next year (I’ll) be tougher and stronger and better than ever.”

*** NBC 10 is the official Philadelphia Eagles station. In response to the story, the station partnered with the Eagles organization to fulfill Gaven’s wish to meet the team and attend a game. Watch that heartwarming story here: http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/sports/Young-Football-Player-Born-Without-Arms-Or-Legs-Meets-The-Eagles_Philadelphia-363507281.html

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1 Comment

  1. rachel
    November 18, 2016

    Great article!!!

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