Amy's way: Lehi High swimmer with no legs finds ways to compete without making excuses
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.
"I did gymnastics when I was little. That was my main sport," said Chapman. "Balance is one of my hardest things; I couldn't feel the beam, so it was hard. But it actually helped me get better with my balance."
Any difficulty has made her more creative, and in turn, even more capable.
"It's kind of become a part of me," she said glancing down at her prosthetic legs. "There is nothing to be sad about. I didn't miss out on anything. ... And I've always loved to do things for myself."
That's not to say she's never thought about using her lack of legs to take what she saw as an easier route. At one point in her swimming career, she decided that because she didn't have legs, she really didn't need to kick.
"I didn't think it did any good," she said with a giggle. "But it does make me go forward, and it helps keep my hips up. Once I saw how much it helped me swim, I started kicking."
Interestingly, it was her involvement with adaptive sports that inspired her to be more competitive.
"It opened my eyes to see that this is not a disability," she said. "I was looking at all of the people who made the national team, and competing against them and I realized what I could actually do."
She narrowly missed the opportunity to compete in London and has now set her sights on Rio in 2016, although she's still deciding if it will be swimming or basketball that takes her there.
Chapman finds competing in adaptive sports invigorating and inspiring.
"It gives me a lot of good ideas about how to do things," she said.
With her competitive fire stoked, she has approached her time on teams with able-bodied athletes as training for her adaptive competitions. Every time she struggles to finish in the middle of the pack of a high school swim meet, she knows she moves a little closer to her goal of making the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team.
She's already scouted out colleges with adaptive sports programs.
Her teammates and coaches are still just getting to know her as she moved to Utah from Chicago this summer. But her warm and engaging personality quickly put her teammates at ease.
"At first I didn't know how she would do some of the things that we have to do, like dive or flip turn," said senior Cameron Hegemann, a team captain. "I didn't ask; I just waited to see. It's definitely hard for her, but she did it better than I thought."
The team's captains admit they were intimidated and uneasy about asking Chapman why she had no legs. They were embarrassed to ask and unsure how to approach the subject.
"I didn't ask questions," said the team's only other senior girl, Kaylie Rush. "But I think it's really awesome. She doesn't see herself as any different from anyone else. She's like a friend to our whole team, so positive all the time."
Watching Chapman do what some of the teens aren't sure can be done inspires both gratitude and a fierce work ethic.
"She makes us a better team because we have more fun," said Hannah Hansen, a junior captain. "After a race she always tells you good job, or helps you know what to work on. She's fun, happy and a really hard worker. She always has Disney quotes for us."
Chapman's influence on the team is exactly what Lehi head coach Dennis Meyring hoped it would be when he heard a paralympic swimmer was enrolling at Lehi High this summer.
"I thought there is potential for this athlete to be very inspiring to the other swimmers, depending on (her) attitude," said Meyring, whose coached swimming for 19 years. "Then I met her and thought, 'Wow. She has such a positive attitude and just determination. She has goals and she knows what she wants.' It doesn't take long (for her to fit in). She'll completely disarm you. You just don't even see her as a person with a disability, and that's because of the way she approaches things."
Meyring said Chapman participates in all of the demanding aspects of the sport — from early-morning workouts to three-hour after-school practices. "When the team runs, she does the elliptical," he said. "She just has this drive that says, 'I'm part of the team. Whatever the team requires, I'm going to do it.' She's just another swimmer."
And being a swimmer — an athlete — has enhanced Chapman's life.
"It's awesome," she said of being a swimmer and basketball player. "If I didn't do sports I would go crazy. ... My life would be very different without them. This has helped me not makes excuses."
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