Loosing limbs doesn't mean stop living

Posted by Ralph | 8:37 PM

Alcohol cost Cameron Clapp both legs and his right arm eight years ago but it could not prevent him from dancing in front of students in a St. Ursula Academy classroom Thursday.

The 23-year-old California native, in Cincinnati to mentor other double-leg amputees at University and Shriners hospitals, delivered a heart-felt and unflinching presentation to two sophomore health classes at the East Walnut Hills high school.

"Impossible is an opinion, not a fact," said Clapp, wearing blue shorts and a short-sleeved golf shirt to reveal his prosthetic legs and arm.

Accompanied by video, still photographs and audio, he detailed his injury, recovery and interests and challenged the students to set goals, overcome obstacles and reap the benefits of positive choices and realize the consequences of negative ones - messages all rendered genuinely.

"He never lost his California surfer-dude attitude," was what impressed Lauren Harper, a St. Ursula sophomore from Golf Manor.

The first obstacle he had to overcome, Clapp said, was his parents' divorce, even before his accident. He showed a photograph of his family, including identical twin brother Jesse.

"He's a good-looking guy," Cameron said.

The brothers were active, playing soccer and baseball and surfing and running in their hometown of Pismo Beach.

But they made a bad choice Sept. 15, 2001. They were 15 at the time and went out for a night of under-aged drinking. They got home, "intoxicated," he said, and decided to walk to the beach, crossing railroad tracks they'd crossed thousands of times.

"I didn't hear or see the train," Clapp said. "The train took me out." It cut off both legs and his right arm, the dominant one he wrote, ate and threw with.

His head and organs were not injured.

"It is a miracle that I survived and can recognize the consequences of my actions," he said.

The first doctor treating him told Clapp and his family that the teen-ager never would walk again.

"We bailed on that dude," he said.

He showed a photograph of himself bandaged and in bed. Then, he showed one with his stumps and scars uncovered.

"That image will stay with me," said St. Ursula sophomore Katie Woebkenberg of Montgomery. "To see him now, you realize how far he has come."

The family found a doctor and a company that could help him. Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics, which custom-made prosthetic legs that fit Clapp's residual leg limbs, cut off right above the knee. The process was slow and especially arduous, perhaps the most difficult period in his recovery. His doctor and therapists told him that for him to truly learn to walk he would have to give up use of his wheelchair.

"Ditched it," Clapp said as he clicked on a photograph of himself on the beach at sunset, his artificial legs silhouetted and the wheelchair overturned at his side.

"I fell right after this picture was taken," he said, laughing.

Sophomore Sophie Rupp of White Oak was inspired by the photograph. "That's when it seemed he turned his life around," she said.

Clapp would fall many times. He showed video of himself tumbling off his new legs but getting back up. He had to walk backward up ramps and inclines at first. Clapp smiled and laughed at himself in the video.

"I could never have done that," said Abbie Grause, a St. Ursula sophomore from Cleves.

Hanger Prosthetics, which sponsors many of Clapp's trips and presentations, developed multiple legs for him, including ones with a microchip in the knee that allow him to set the knees in various positions that allow, among other activities, him to drive a car without hand controls and run.

"Got to be able to trust the knee to be there," he said while running from one corner of the classroom to another. "I can do things without thinking about it."

Custom-made flippers and a paddle at the end of his artificial arm allow him to swim, which addressed the problem of muscle atrophy on the right side of his upper body.

Initially, his father, a surfer, had tossed him in a pool without prosthetic limbs. With flippers and the paddle, Cameron Clapp has since completed swims of 1.2 and 1.4 miles in triathlons for athletes with disabilities.

"Charged out into the ocean like a little seal," he said.

He likes to golf, paint, play music as a disc-jockey and act. He has met and befriended actors Will Farrell and Robin Williams. Clapp landed a bit part in the film "Stop Loss," in which he plays pool with a wounded soldier. He was featured in an episode of the television series "My Name is Earl," in which he played a double-amputee boyfriend. of a single-amputee woman whose car was stolen by Earl. Clapp's character runs down Earl and beats him with a political yard sign.

"Good things, extraordinary things, have happened to me," he said. "My good choices have resulted in rewards that are priceless."

He is in contact and has mentored other amputees, including U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. One wounded soldier, who loved to hike, resigned himself to life in a wheelchair. Clapp met him and has become a friend. He showed video of the two men negotiating trails over rocks on their artificial legs.

"He doesn't own a chair any more," Clapp said.

His next goal is to learn to cycle.

Running always has been a passion.

Clapp runs the 100 meters in 17 seconds - a time that is improving, he said - on specially designed sprint feet that feature ultra-lightweight hydraulic knee units.

"Like flying," he said.

His athletic achievements won Clapp the 2005 Shining Star honor from Just One Break Inc., a nonprofit organization founded in part by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1947 to recognize a person for overcoming a disability. Past winners include singer Ray Charles and actor Christopher Reeve.

At the end of his presentation, Clapp showed a film clip of himself running a 400-meter race in the Endeavor Games for disabled athletes. He trailed in the sprint and tripped trying to make up ground, landing hard on his left shoulder and head. He struggled to get up two or three times before finally rising to his feet. He finished the race.

"I got `er done," he said.

His twin, Jesse, Cameron continued, didn't.

"He tripped and fell down (in January 2008) and couldn't get back up," Clapp said. "He got into drugs and over-dosed. It killed him.

"That's reality. If you make bad choices bad things will happen. Jesse never got to learn from his mistake. I have been able to."

He made this appeal to students, the same one he made on previous stops this week at a hospital and two high schools in Columbus.

"Don't beat yourself up," Clapp said of inevitable mistakes. "But now is the time of your lives when you are vulnerable. The choices you make affect everybody close to you. My brother is not with me physically. He is in here."

(The Enquirer/Gary Landers)

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