Andrew Austen is like a lot of other budding 14-year-old jocks. The teen plays as many sports as he can fit into a calendar year, using his striking athleticism to star in no fewer than three: Baseball, golf and basketball. All three sports require practice, patience and a good deal of hand eye coordination.
It goes without saying that all three games also usually rely on two arms. That's where Austen is different. The 14-year-old from the Philadelphia area was born with only one full arm — his left upper body limb — with his right arm ending around the elbow. According to the Philadelphia Daily News, that handicap hasn't stopped the youngster from excelling in all three sports of his choice.
And Austen is more than just a participant in the sports he chooses to pursue; he's a star. Austen is a standout starting pitcher for the Wayne (Pa.) Wolverines Sandlot American Legion team, with a shutout to his name in his squad's season opener. According to the Inquirer, Austen lines up in centerfield when he isn't pitching as a way to keep him in the lineup because, well, he can hit.
"Andrew has always been one of the best athletes on the field," Peter Austen, the teen's father and baseball coach told the Daily News.
If there was any question about Austen's ability to field his position, they were answered in an earlier Legion game. An opposing coach noticed that Austen only had one arm, so he decided he would try to exploit the time it would take Austen to switch his glove from one hand to the other to get a runner to first base after a bunt.
The first batter came up and bunted, and was swiftly thrown out at first base by Austen. The second batter bunted and was again thrown out by Austen. The third batter bunted … and was thrown out by Austen. Three up, three down, inning over.
Needless to say, that was the last of the attempted bunt offense.
An even more touching testament to Austen's athletic skill comes from his summer basketball coach, Brendan Dougherty, who had never seen Austen before his team's first game (all squad were chosen in a blind draft where coaches didn't know anything about their players until they began play).
Austen was so impressive early in his debut with the Narbeth League squad that his coach didn't even realize that his new star only had one arm.
"The kid is an athlete and he can just flat out play," Doughterty, who is also the coach at Rosemont College, told the Daily News.
Austen has also excelled at golf, with one amputee-specific tournament title to his name.
Of equal importance, Austen has an impressive sense of humor about his injury. Rather than admit that he was simply born without a full left arm, Austen has been known to show off a scar on his right arm and claim it was made by a shark, who chomped off the rest of his arm. Even his family considered getting in on the shark act, joking in a proposed family photo caption that they were on the lookout for the shark that stole Austen's arm.
That's fitting for a family in which the other three Austen brothers were routinely beaten with the prosthetic hand Andrew tried out as a younger child. Instead of helping him complete every day tasks, Austen's faux hand just made it easier for him to pinch his brothers.
Now, while the rest of the world marvels at the teenager's remarkable athleticism and seamless adaptation to sports and life with one arm, Austen and his family calmly look at their brother and son and realize that everyone else only knows the half of the story. Namely, that Austen is even clever enough to use his congenital setback as a way to get out of household work.
"Usually when people say, 'Can you bring this over?' I say, 'I can't, I only have one arm,'" Andrew says. "That's pretty much what I use it for."
"Oh, yeah, he's a complete scammer," Peter says.
- Sports & Recreation