Story and photo: Stephen Thompson at the Tampa Tribune

SEMINOLE - Sean Fitzgibbon was born without a fibula in his right leg, and his right foot was deformed, too.

So on his third birthday, the leg was amputated at the knee.

Fitzgibbon, now a 34-year-old husband and father of two, has learned to cope. He also learned that he didn't want his disability to squelch his athleticism. And he became a champion among his peers in surfing and kayaking.

Now Fitzgibbon and three of his cohorts want to impart his message of hope and perseverance to all of those who have lost a limb, including troops returning from Iraq.

To that end, they are embarking on a 220-mile kayak trip on May 12 to circle the Florida Keys. Thirteen days have been set aside for the voyage, but Fitzgibbon and his friends hope to do it in eight to 10 days.

In addition to raising awareness, the four hope to raise money for Extremity Games, an annual extreme amateur sports competition for people who have a limb loss or disability. This year's contests will be held in Michigan from July 24 through 26

Fitzgibbon loves the concept of the Extremity Games because it encourages people who often feel alone and isolated to come together and show how skillful they've become in their various sports.

"We want to bring a message to amputees: Love life; don't be a victim of the amputation," the Seminole man said.

That call especially needs to be heard by veterans returning from Iraq without an arm or a leg, he said.

Fitzgibbon is more than aware that some amputees can't afford the help they need. As a full-time prosthetics technician at St. Petersburg Limb & Brace, he often comes across amputees whose health insurance doesn't cover the full cost of a prosthetic device.

The name of the quartet taking the kayak trip is Team Topahonu. "Topahonu" means "great sea turtle" in Hawaiian. Fitzgibbon earned the nickname there as a surfer because turtles are known to be able to swim after they lose a flipper.

The other members of the team are Jeff Fabiszewski, a Dunedin man whose wife has paralysis of her left side; David Tranor, an Orlando outdoorsman who has helped the disabled with sports such as snow skiing; and Brian Doehleman, a Largo war veteran whose brother owns Osprey Bay Outdoors, a kayaking shop in Clearwater.

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