To say that Tony Volpentest is an inspiration, is like saying it snows in Alaska. Though a true statement, it barely scratches the surface of its significance.
Born without hands and feet, Tony's condition has all the makings for a life-long excuse of inaction and unconditional defeat. However, seemingly from birth, Tony wouldn’t consider the word “can't”, much less act on it.
Instead, he went out of his way to show that he was just as capable as those with all of their limbs in tact.
With the exception of one operation in his infancy that separated the ulna and radius bones in his arms, giving him pincer-like hands, Tony forwent any other hand prosthetics in preference to having feeling over "normal" appearance. On his legs, one being three-inches shorter than the other, Tony wore appliances that ended in little half-shoes.
Lucky enough to get through his elementary and middle school experience with hearty acceptance, and very little ill-will and ignorance, Tony entered high school with trepidation. Though experiencing a shaky freshman year—admittedly self-imposed—Tony's subsequent years went fairly smooth. Encouraged by a fellow student, Tony, along with his brother, and emotional rock, Art, joined the track team—a decision that changed Tony’s life forever.
Given that school had an "everybody plays" policy, there was no chance for Tony to be left out—however, he wouldn’t let his handicap differentiate him from the rest of the team anymore than it already did. Working just as hard (or maybe even harder) as the able-bodied students, Tony ran races and did his best—and despite coming in last most of the time, nothing could discourage him or lessen his teammates support.
Having developed a love for running, Tony worked very hard. With the kindness and generosity of others, including one very committed teacher, he received coaching and physical therapy that helped take him to the next level of his sport.
After running in out-of-state competitions, Tony was approached by a representative from Flex-Feet, a blade-like prosthetic worn by many of Tony’s single amputee competitors. Flex Feet also became Tony’s sponsor and flew him to other out-of-state competitions.
Soon Tony was a regular competitor in the Paralympics, winning multiple medals and setting world records—often shattering his own record in the same day. Choosing to run against single amputees, Tony always set the bar high and the found a way rise even further above it.
A four-time Paralympics Gold Medalist and five-time World Champion, a wonderful father and husband, Tony Volpentest won the hearts and respect of teachers, coaches, Olympic champions, and presidential candidates.
Excelling far beyond the limited expectations that were placed on him at a very young age, Tony proved that not only would he walk, but would ride a bike and even learn to fly.
So yeah, to say Tony Volpentest is an inspiration would be a vast understatement.
Paperback: 280 pages
Publisher: Bettie Youngs Book Publishers (June 15, 2012)