Amy's way: Lehi High swimmer with no legs finds ways to compete without making excuses

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 25 2012 12:35 a.m. MST

Lehi High School swimming practice at the Lehi Legacy Center, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012.

Ben Brewer, Deseret News

LEHI — Eye rolls, groans and mild complaints accompany every request from the Lehi assistant swim coach as he directs the team's dryland workout.

The teenagers just spent two hours in the water. The last things they want to do are sit-ups, leg lifts and crab crawls.

Every request seems the perfect opportunity for senior Amy Chapman to beg for a break.

But the 17-year-old isn't the kind of girl that uses convenient excuses. Not in swimming. Not in life. In fact, she's spent her whole life trying to figure out how to be included in sports despite a birth defect that stole her lower legs at 13 months.

So when her coach asks the team to do 100 calf raises, the girl with no calves heads to the stairs to do step-ups.

It's a little more difficult on prosthetic legs. They wobble, are less agile, and the rubber feet sometimes slip on the wet cement. But none of this matters to Chapman as the smile on her face is unwavering.

She's doing what she loves — what she's always loved — and that's reason enough to grin.

Chapman was born premature and without fibular bones in her legs, a congenital defect called fibular hemimelia. She had both her legs amputated just below the knees when she was 13 months old.

She has never known the ease of having two healthy legs.

But she has also never known self-pity or isolation. Her parents signed her up for sports like swimming, gymnastics and soccer, just like they did her three siblings.

"She's always been accepted," said her mom, Leslie Chapman, who was a swimmer at BYU. Amy's dad Keith played basketball at Utah. "She's always been so comfortable. She's always had to figure out how to adapt, from the time she was tiny. She had a twin brother who got up and ran around, and she's just always done things without even thinking about them."

When the other children went to the sink for a drink, there was no discussion of who would help poor Amy. The resourceful little girl simply dragged a chair to the sink and helped herself.

"She's just always figured out a way to get what she wanted," said Leslie Chapman.

In fact, the Chapmans didn't even know there were sports specifically adapted for athletes with physical disabilities until Amy was 10.

"We never knew anything about adaptive sports," says Amy Chapman. "I could do everything I wanted so I never really needed them. I did gymnastics; I played soccer. I just wasn't as fast, but I could still do it. I just had to find my own way."

That she had to find her own way to compete with able-bodied athletes only made her more determined, more committed.

"The fact that I had to find a way to do it made it so I knew I could," she said.

She almost struggles with the concept that some in her situation might doubt their own capabilities. Her mom believes that's because Chapman, unlike many adaptive athletes, didn't lose her legs to an accident or a disease, enabling her to have an easier time accepting her circumstances.

"Amy doesn't have any of those emotional scars or experiences," said Leslie Chapman. "This is all she's ever know. There was never a period of loss. It's natural. We put on our shoes; she puts on her legs."

When asked about things she feels intimidated by or incapable of, she just shrugs, looks a little puzzled and simply says that when she's faced with something new, she does what she's always done — she finds a way.