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One-handed athlete, ‘victorious’ over obstacles in sports

December 7, 2018

As he blocked an opponent nearby, Jacob Phillips saw his teammate, Adonijah Hubbard, cut to the left trying — unsuccessfully — to find running room during a Nelson ninth-grade football game earlier this fall. A defender met Hubbard and knocked him back a step or two, nearly coming up with the tackle.

But Hubbard didn’t go down. He absorbed the contact and darted to the opposite side, picking up a couple more yards, said Phillips, who remembers Hubbard’s fortitude in the moment.

“I’m still going, boys,” Phillips heard Hubbard say.

The bit of self-affirmation Hubbard, an eighth-grader playing up for the ninth-grade squad, spoke in the moment wasn’t a one-time thing. Hubbard oozes confidence. His smile betrays his certainty. His words reveal his tenacity.

“If (something) comes up, I defeat the challenge,” he said. “I become victorious.”

Whether on the football field or basketball court, in the weight room or in life’s daily tasks, Hubbard, in fact, has defeated challenge after challenge. Every day, Hubbard — Nelson’s one-handed athlete — shows teammates, friends, family, teachers and coaches he won’t be held back by what most consider a disability, instead overcoming stigma to celebrate his unique attribute.

Hubbard, the football player-turned-basketball player for the winter, was born without a left hand. His arm ends at his wrist, leaving what he calls his nub with five stubs where a hand never formed, he explained.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 to 2 percent of babies are born with congenital defects, about 10 percent of which are malformations to the hand. The organization says such malformations can cause deficient motor skills, difficulty with daily living activities or limitations on certain types of exercises and sports.

But don’t tell Hubbard that.

“He has this disability and he acts like that’s never there,” Phillips said of his teammate, explaining his admiration for Hubbard’s attitude. “He doesn’t care about it, doesn’t talk about it.”

As a child, Hubbard said, he realized simple things like tying his shoes would take on a different form for him. But he conquered that challenge and other similar obstacles.

“I can make it look like somebody with two hands tied them,” Hubbard said.

″(Somebody) that was good at tying shoes,” he added for specificity.

Then came a whole new set of hurdles as he began playing sports.

In the weight room, Hubbard can only lift one dumbbell, for example. But rather than develop muscle only in one arm, he puts weights that normally go on a bar for a bench press or similar exercise on his nub.

In gym class, Hubbard modified a flexed arm hang — a timed exercise testing upper-body strength as a person hangs with his or her chin above a bar — by hooking the wrist near his nub over one bar while holding on with his hand.

“It’s mind over matter,” Hubbard said.

In football, his favorite sport in which he plays running back and defensive end, Hubbard had to learn how to carry the ball. The charge to hold onto the football and prevent fumbles was a much bigger ask for Hubbard than for other kids.

In basketball, setting up for a shot without the support of a second hand, and learning to pass and dribble effectively, became new goals.

And according to coaches, Hubbard’s checked every one of those boxes.

“Whenever he’s asked to do something, he does it, whether that’s catching the ball, tackling a guy. His attitude is so positive, always,” Nelson ninth-grade football coach Brennan Banton said during the fall season.

″. Football’s a no-excuse, no-nonsense type of sport, and he definitely has that attitude that I would like for any player to have, . and with that attitude comes his effort on the field. He gives it 100 percent every time he’s out there. . He’s going full speed, giving it his all.”

A couple weeks into basketball season, Hubbard’s basketball coach, Logan Arthur, has seen the same qualities.

“He works just as if he had both of his hands,” Arthur said. “Whatever you ask of him, that’s what he’s gonna do, and he’s gonna do it to the best of his ability.

″. Just watching him play, you don’t really notice unless you see it. He definitely works just as hard if not harder (than any other kid). He’s definitely a competitor and doesn’t use any excuses. He’s always early to practice or he’s doing extra work or whatever you ask of him.”

There were times, of course, when accomplishing his goals became mental hurdles, too. Like last year when Hubbard was cut from the middle school team, relegated instead to the role of manager.

But he worked at home with his dad to develop skills like a cross-over dribble and others, and he ran with the team during practice. And it paid off this time around, when Hubbard tried out for and made the ninth-grade team.

“He’ll give everything his best,” Banton said. “Even if it’s not where he wants to be, he’ll work his tail off to get where he wants to be.”

Today, Hubbard’s still working to get where he wants to be. His sights are set on the NFL, which features Shaquem Griffin, a one-handed linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks whom Hubbard considers an inspiration — who may also have stolen Hubbard’s thunder this year when he was the first one-handed player ever drafted.

“I was like, ‘Dang, come on, man! I was supposed to be the first one,’” Hubbard said jokingly.

But for now, Hubbard’s in his element on Nelson’s athletic teams, ready anytime to show off the skills he’s developed despite having the odds stacked against him. And his nub, of course, continues to be a source of pride at the center of his swagger.

“I just hold my hand in the air like this,” Hubbard said with a smile during a recent basketball practice, showing off his follow-through with his shooting hand before switching arms, “and then I just lift up my nub.”

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