Zach Hodskins glides down the basketball court, whips the ball behind his back, and leaps over helpless defenders to finish a layup. The play—part of a series of highlights from Hodskins’ career as a high school basketball star—has been viewed by nearly four million people on YouTube. (The video’s uploader deems Hodskins “the most amazing basketball player you'll ever see!”).
At 17, Hodskins is a local celebrity in the small town of Alpharetta, Georgia. A senior at Milton High School, he recently accepted an offer (“verbally committed”) from the University of Florida’s elite Division I basketball program. On Twitter, Hodskins posted a flurry of news stories marking the announcement, excitedly proclaiming, “It's great to be a Florida Gator!” and retweeting those who were “inspired” by his story.
Hodskins is, by all accounts, an extraordinary athlete. But the 6’4”, 200-pound shooting guard is particularly, yes, inspiring because he was born without the lower half of his left arm. USA Today called his athleticism “mind-boggling”; his high school coach declared his skill “remarkable”; Beyoncé dedicated a blog post to him.
Indeed, watching Hodskins cradle the ball with half an arm is something to behold. He dribbles effortlessly around his opponents, the ball floating from his right fingertips to the nub of his left arm, back to his right hand; at the three-point line, he sinks a shot with a smooth release.
Overcoming a seemingly insurmountable disability to play sports at a high level isn’t an unknown phenomenon. In the 1940s, while many American baseball players were fighting in the Second World War, a one-armed baseball phenom named Pete Gray signed a contract with the St. Louis Browns, playing 77 games in the Major Leagues. In 1989, the California Angels retained the services of pitcher Jim Abbott, who was born without a right hand. Abbott’s career was more successful than Gray’s; he pitched at a professional level for over a decade, once throwing a no-hitter as a member of the New York Yankees.
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