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‘Guy with one arm who played sports’ now helping others with disabilities

Published: Sunday, October 13, 2019 @ 8:00 AM

As soon as Allison Campbell delivered her second son on July 26, 1997, she looked at her doctor’s face.

“Something wasn’t quite right,” she said of the physician’s reaction.

Campbell, a former labor and delivery nurse, noticed the doctor was holding her son low and out of her sight.

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“What’s wrong?” she asked her husband, Greg.

He laid his face down and whispered: “He doesn’t have his arm. He’s missing part of his arm.”

That defining moment for the Campbell family occurred 22 years ago at Middletown Regional Hospital. Since then, Luke Campbell, born missing his left arm from the elbow, has proved every doubter wrong. He was a Monroe All-Star U12 baseball standout and as a senior at Madison High School he was the Mohawks’ ace, going 8-3, striking out 48 in 55.1 innings and compiling a 1.77 ERA.

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After high school, he pitched middle relief for two seasons at Wittenberg University in Springfield.

A college senior, Campbell has walked off the pitcher’s mound for the last time and started another, more important, endeavor: Being the voice of athletes with disabilities.

In his new role, Campbell won’t be judged by his ERA or win-loss record. Making a difference in one kid’s life, opening doors that were previously closed, will hold more value than a showcase of trophies.

“My dream is to give everyone the opportunity to compete in athletics no matter their ability,” he said. “Sports not only gave me an outlet to compete, but also a feeling of being part of a team and family.”

He started selling Overcome bracelets for $2 and proceeds will be donated to organizations striving to give athletes with disabilities an opportunity to play, he said. Campbell designed the bracelets, and hopes they serve as “a reminder that my disability doesn’t define me.”

In two weeks, he has sold 850 bracelets.

“It’s been crazy,” the 2016 Madison High School graduate said recently from his college dorm. “It blew up.”

Campbell is an elementary education major and hopes to earn his license to teach early childhood and special education. He’s student teaching at Northwestern Elementary School in Springfield. He’s getting accustomed to the stares from his kindergarten students. People have stared his entire life.

“They last about five minutes,” he said of the inquisitive looks from the kids. “Then they realize I’m a regular teacher. My heart has been with those kids.”

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Greg and Allison Campbell have five children: Clayton, 26, Luke, 22, Lily, 19, Turner, 17, a senior at Madison, and Ella, 15, a freshman. Raising a son with a disability has offered its challenges, physically and mentally.

Initially, Allison was in “shock” when told her son was born without an arm. There were no indications throughout the pregnancy that he’d be born with a disability.

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“At that moment, it was like, ‘Oh my goodness,’” she said. “You feel responsible. But we also know God has something in store for him. We didn’t know what that looked like.”

Luke was fitted for a prosthesis when he was 6 months old. It was clunky and had a hook attached on the end. He ruined lots of furniture.

“Horrible” is how his mother described the device.

Then one day while she was watching her oldest son play soccer, Luke walked up and dropped this bomb: “Mom, when am I going to get my arm?”

Even though she knew that question was inevitable, she dreaded that moment.

“Come here, Luke,” she said. “Honey, you’re not going to get an arm. You’re not going to get one. This is what you have.”

Later, Luke took off his prosthesis and told his parents: “I like myself like this.”

“We let him be himself,” his mother said. “He had to work twice as hard as the other kids. We didn’t baby him. Just getting him to tie his shoes was a struggle. But he had a great attitude. Sports was a way to show himself and to fit in. He got comfortable with his identity. He amazed us.”

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Luke said the “struggles” throughout his life made him a better person. Sports created a “sense of normalcy,” he said.

“There was a feeling of being included, fitting in, that team feeling,” he said. “It’s hard to beat that. You’re part of a team and you can’t be denied.”

So now Luke Thomas Campbell wants to be known more than “the guy with one arm who played sports,” he said.

“Be who you are and be proud of that,” he answered when asked for advice. “Have dreams and try to be comfortable with who you are. Accept it, but push yourself. Never settle.”

He remembered a conversation he had with his father, a former youth pastor. He was told that God gives the hardest burdens to the strongest people.

“You have been given a platform,” his father told him. “Cherish that. Don’t waste it.”

So he’s making the best of his situation. One bracelet at a time.

HOW TO SUPPORT CAMPBELL’S CAUSE

Overcome bracelets are $2 and can be purchased via Venmo to campbell_luke. Proceeds will be donated to organizations striving to give athletes with disabilities an opportunity to compete.

For more information, email overcomedisability@yahoo.com.