Choosing Mobility over Appearance, Set Me Free

Nico Calabria US National Amputee Soccer

Although I cannot remember the biggest day of my life per se, I can imagine how it likely transpired.  Picture a kindergarten aged boy with dirty blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and a set of denim overalls “galloping” around the playground after other youngsters.

For some, the wide smile may have seemed incongruous with the hidden, uncomfortable bucket prosthetic that the “gallop” indicated all too well, but for me, it was just another day on the playground.  As I was born without my right leg and hip, my parents helped me grapple to achieve mobility, trying tools such as walkers, wheelchairs and prosthetics for a start.

A Pivotal Moment In My Mobility

It was on that sunny playground day that my parents introduced me to my first ever pair of bright blue WalkEasy forearm crutches.  The moment I pulled off the sweaty prosthetic and picked up my forearm crutches, marked a pivotal moment in my mobility, and I ran after the other youngsters again, but this time much faster.  Admittedly I was too young to fully conceptualize the gravity of my decision, but in that instant I subconsciously chose that my appearance was secondary to my mobility, and that my crutches were setting me free from the cage that was my prosthetic.

To this day, my parents call my crutches “Nico’s wings”, but maybe not for the reasons I originally thought.  Retrospectively, I acknowledge that I set myself free in a deeper sense than physical ability; I freed myself from the world’s expectations of what it means to be physically handicapped.

This is not to encourage all those walking on prosthetics to switch to forearm crutches, but rather to draw attention to a paradox present in our society.  Mobility is not about fulfilling some sort of societal notion of appearing able, but rather using any and all tools available to truly be mobile.  I expect I would be wearing a prosthetic if I had a right hip and partial femur. Since I do not, forearm crutches allow me to reach my highest level of mobility.

It just so happens that my choice to use forearm crutches highlights my disability to the wider world.  For instance, when I walk through the mall, people will shove small children and old ladies out of the way while sprinting to open a door for me (a task I am fully capable of), something that would not happen if I were to wear my prosthetic.

And this is my point; it truly does not matter that those moments highlight my disability because I know the crutches make me more capable, no matter how I look.  I hope that all of you reading this consider your own personal relationship with ability and conformity, with physical discomfort and social anxiety, and that you choose what truly makes you fulfilled.

While I escaped the limitations of my prosthetic, I paid a minor price on my forearms and palms.  Purple bruises marked my forearms where the cheap plastic cuff made contact, and the palms of my hands became calloused and achy.  Similar to an athlete damaging their body playing the sport they love, I damaged my body for the sake of heightened mobility.

Nico Calabria Mobility

Beta Testing

I am happy to say that after my climb of Mount Kilimanjaro in 2007, the startup company SideStix heard about my story and asked me to be one of 10 beta testers for their new sports crutch.  Since then I have broken just about every single piece of my SideStix, unlike WalkEasy who would just send me a replacement part, SideStix would reinvent the part and challenge me to break it again.

After 7 years of this process I am no longer able to break them, not to mention that I have been pain free in my crutching since adopting SideStix.  The crutch uses ergonomic angles to maintain a natural position while crutching, bike handles that spread the weight over the palm, and forearm pads that immediately reduced and eventually eliminated my bruising altogether.

Here’s the point: never stop searching for what gives you the most mobility.  twitter-512

When I grow tired and old, I will get a prosthetic in addition to my crutches to continue my mobility further.  What people think of the one legged man with crutches and a prosthetic simply does not matter.  I will be hiking in the woods for miles on end, in a state of total bliss.  Just me, my friends, family, and whatever else I need, to do the things I love.

Nico_ThumbnailNicolai works part-time as a motivational speaker, presenting to audiences in both the United States and Europe. At age 17 he was named to the US National Amputee Soccer Team, scoring a goal in his first international match.

Visit his website at


Other Ambassadors

Football Amputee Josh Sundquist SideStix - Polio