Unstoppable: Talkative, bright boy adopted from India has stumps for limbs

Published: Monday, March 29 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Jag Martin corrects his spelling quiz in Colin MacLeod's class at Rosamond Elementary School. He anchors the marker on his left arm, against his nubbin, and holds it in place with the thumb on his right arm.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

RIVERTON — I could begin this story coyly by telling you that Jag Martin, a 12-year-old at Rosamond Elementary, can read, write, shoot hoops, play a little soccer, talk his way into a seat by himself next to the wall, and annoy his sisters like any self-respecting brother; he's just like other kids in almost every way, except he's pretty much a straight A student and he has stumps where you have arms and legs.

Or I could just as easily begin this story by telling you how he came to this country; I could tell you about SaraJo Martin, who was a 39-year-old Riverton schoolteacher at the time and had never married when she adopted 1-2-3-4 children over an 8-year period from an orphanage in India — and then at age 50 she met Jim Miller, a highway patrolman and saint who bravely married all five of them.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Let's begin with Jag and weave our way back to the beginning. Jag attends a mainstream school, where barely anyone notices his disabilities anymore; he's just another kid, which is exactly as he would have it. He rides his electric-powered wheelchair to school and parks it the rest of the day, preferring to move around on his feet or all fours the rest of the day, depending on how big of a hurry he is in. He's a good student. His teacher already has referred him for algebra next year in the seventh grade — most kids don't take algebra until the eighth or ninth grade.

"I get A's except in typing and handwriting," he says with a grin ... "Typing is an F. I'm only typing 20 words a minute!"

My thought: How does he type that fast? After all, he has no hands. He types with a single digit — the only one he has. His left arm consists only of a shortened upper arm bone that ends with an elbow joint and a "nubbin" (a fleshy growth that appears to be a fat thumb). He has an upper and lower arm on the right side, albeit shortened and fused, and it ends with a thumb (his sole instrument for typing). Ever resourceful, he has discovered a way to write by anchoring a pencil on his left arm, against his nubbin and holding it in place with the thumb on his right arm. This two-handed writing style produces passable and stylish work.

"He doesn't let anything stop him," says Rosamond principal Shelly Nordick. "If there's something he can't do, he figures a way to do it."

Take recess, for instance. His legs are short and stubby — he stands less than three feet tall — and each foot has only three toes. But he manages to play most of the sports on the playground. In kickball, he strikes the ball with his arm or a teammate kicks for him, and then he gallops around the bases on all fours (which is one reason his left elbow is calloused and thick).

"The students don't see him as different," says Nordick. "Sometimes if the teacher helps him, the other students say, 'Why are you helping him?' He's just a natural part of the classroom."

Well, almost. "I like school," Jag says, "but I talk too much so some of my work doesn't get done, and now the teacher has me sitting against the wall so I can't talk to others."

Jag is a gabber, but then he's got a lot of energy to release since he's not as mobile as most his age (he rocks and fidgets constantly while seated for an interview in his living room). His sisters won't let him sit on the couch with them when they watch TV because he talks so incessantly that they can't hear the show.

"I've heard him talking to himself," says SaraJo.

Jag wears an impish grin almost constantly. He is bright, humorous and curious. His teachers says he has a way of making people feel comfortable, and it's true. His disabilities are no white elephant in the middle of the room; he throws the subject out there and puts visitors at ease.

"He's pretty good at laughing at himself," says Nordick.

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