ADA — Apparently, his word is “awesome.”
Eleven-year-old Theo Hardesty recently used the word over and over again; describing himself, his hobbies and even the outer space design covering of his prosthetic legs.
“I used to have flames going up. I might get cars next,” Theo said as he bounces from the couch onto the floor and quickly put on his “legs.” He just as quickly removes them a few minutes later.
Theo, a sixth-grader at Ada Elementary School, has a rare form of tibial hemimelia. He was born without tibias and had both legs amputated at the knees at age 1. He has no other issues, such as problems with his hands or a heart defect, both sometimes associated with the condition.
“Mine is rare and it is also cool because nothing else is wrong,” he said.
For parents Eric and Suzanne Hardesty, the amputation was the best decision they could make. If not, Theo would spend his life in a wheelchair and face surgery after surgery.
“He was raring to go right afterwards, ready to crawl,” Mom remembered.
Within two months, Theo had his his first set of legs. Figuring out how to stand up was the hardest. Theo uses what the family calls the “football style.” It comes easy to him now, although walking for long periods of time has become harder as he grows and puts on more weight.
The next piece of “awesomeness” up for Theo is the Amputee Coalitions’s Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp later this week in Clarksville. It is his second year going; both made possible because of the Cincinnati Dreams Come True Foundation.
Theo will spend the week swimming, fishing, playing basketball, zip-lining and much more. He is also looking forward to tackling the ropes course.
“It is really, really, really, really fun,” he blurted out.
For Mom and Dad, the camp brings Theo together with youth just like him and makes them all equal.
“All the kids are on equal playing terms. That is pretty much all I care about,” Eric Hardesty said. “He is with kids who have the same kinds of drawbacks so they are all equal.”
While thinking mainly of the fun, Theo said it’s nice to be around others with amputations. For those five days, no one will stare at him.
“I hate it when people just stare. I don’t mind if they ask, that’s fine,” he said. “Mostly the smaller kids stare and the adults sometimes just let them.”
Physical activity is nothing new for Theo, who has wrestled the past four years and has played football and soccer. He doesn’t use his legs for wrestling or football, only for soccer. Wrestling is the favorite, even laughing off that one opponent once refused to take him on.
“There are certain moves they can’t do on me and certain moves that are much better to do on me,” he said.
The Hardesty’s weren’t sure how athletics would work for Theo, but were without a doubt going to let him try. Even a broken arm the first football season playing nose guard didn’t keep Theo or his parents down.
“I think other parents worry about Theo more than we worry about Theo,” Suzanne Hardesty said. “They see him fall down, and they worry that he is hurt. We know better. We know he takes a tumble. We know he has a strong threshold for pain.”
There are things Theo can’t do as well as his peers, and with a little coaxing he admits it gets him down sometimes. He can’t always keep up on class field trips and has trouble running like his classmates.
“I want to go faster with my legs,” he said.
Still, Theo takes it well and just reminds that he is “more than meets the eye.”
“From the knees up he is the typical kid,” Mom said.
Theo has grown up around cars and dirt track racing and is already talking about driving. It will be the next obstacle the family faces, Mom said, but she has no doubts that he can do it.
Theo is also in the Cub Scouts, plays the trumpet and thrives in school. His best subjects are science and math, the perfect fit for his quest to be the first “legless” astronaut on Mars.
“I want to be an aeronautical engineer because that might lead to an astronaut,” he said. “And that might lead to going to Mars. And that might lead to awesome.”