By Nathalie Bonney @nathaliebonney
Scroll down for the full story
Videographer / director: Tyler Stefanelli
Producer: Nathalie Bonney, Ruby Coote
Editor: Beth Angus
Gabe Adams, 19, was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil with Hanhart syndrome, a rare medical condition characterised by underdeveloped limbs, mouth and jaw.
In Gabe’s case none of his limbs grew at all. Adopted by American parents Janelle and Ron Adams, Gabe was brought to the US as a baby and grew up with his 13 siblings in Kaysville, Utah.
At school Gabe tried out for the dance team as a way of making friends – discovering he could use his limbless body to his advantage in the art of break dancing. After graduating from high school Gabe has continued to prove his independence, moving out of the family home and embarking on a career as a motivational speaker.
Gabe told Barcroft TV: “I think one of the common questions that I get would be, ‘is your life hard? Do you wish you had limbs?’ And I guess my response would be, no my life isn’t hard.
“The one thing that I have taught myself, and others, is that life is only hard when you make it hard and if I am gonna make it hard then that is on me. But if I am gonna make it easier then it is going to be way easier to live.
“Do I ever wish I had limbs? Of course. But I know that I don’t have arms and legs for a reason so I am just gonna live my life as I can.”
From a young age Gabe started using a wheelchair but his parents were determined that their son would be as independent as possible.
Dad, Ron, said: “The biggest concern as a parent obviously was how we raise a son with no arms, no legs, to be independent. That was our biggest concern. Some day, he is going to be more on his own. He is going to want to do things on his own.
“As parents sometimes you even use tough love but we worked hard with Gabe to help him overcome different challenges, to help him to be independent and that of course resolved in a lot of struggles, lot of tears on both sides."
At school Gabe would wedge a pencil or pen between his shoulder and cheek to write in class; he learnt to shower and wash his hair by squeezing the shampoo onto the shower wall then rubbing his head against it and he texts using the tip of his top lip lightly pressing on the phone screen.
Gabe said: “I hated my parents for making me going through all that hard work, but now I look at them and celebrate that they pushed me to be independent and be the person that they knew I could be.
“I think some of my biggest proudest moments in my life would be learning how to walk, learning how to get myself dressed, going up and down the stairs, getting into my wheelchair, taking my own notes in school; graduating, taking second in dance competition and being a motivational speaker - being able to look back at all those moments and see how far I have come.”
One of 10 brothers and four sisters, closest in age to Gabe is Landon who is just one month younger than Gabe. The two have a close bond to this day having graduated high school together - but while Landon’s experience of school was more atypical – proms, sports teams and dating, for Gabe it was a daily onslaught of cruel comments and bullying.
Gabe said: “I was in the art class one time and our art teacher told us to critique our neighbour’s artwork. This kid said to me: ‘It looks like God made a mistake on you’. I went home that day and I was crushed. I couldn’t get that out of my head.”
Landon remembers his brother often coming home from school totally dejected:
“There were times when he used to come home and he was just completely miserable after how much he got picked on.”
Gabe added: “A lot of times I used to cry about it and my mom had to pull me aside and she made me do this thing where every morning I had had to look at myself in the mirror and give myself ten compliments and go out into the world and give other people those compliments.”
In spite of his parents’ support, Gabe found the bullying too much and opted to change schools in his Freshman year.
“That year was my year of really building myself back and finding who I wanted to be and then I really told myself that I wanted to graduate with Landon and I always had dreamt about us walking in graduation together.
“So I told my parents that after my ninth grade I wanted to go back to public school and be with my brother and my sister.”
After first dancing at a school talent show in sixth grade, Gabe had temporarily stopped dancing but moving back to his old school gave him the impetus to start dancing again – and this time take it up a level.
He said: “When you are sitting in a wheelchair all day it gets pretty boring, and pretty sore, so I needed a class where I could get out of the wheelchair and just be myself and have fun so I took a dance class that I had a friend in saying you should try out for the dance team.
“The day of the dance tryouts they called us all in a line and they said, 'okay dancer remember to full out extensions and point your toes’. What am I gonna point? My nose!?
“I am just standing there in front of the judges and then I see girls do the spins and I am like, ‘I can do that’, so I do the spins,
“The next day at school and I hear two girls talking behind me and they say: ‘They are only gonna put him on the stage because he is handicapped’ and that crushed me.
“I ran to the dance coach and I said ‘please do not put me on the team because you feel sorry for me’, and she said: ‘I would not put you or anybody else on the team because I felt sorry for them, you get a spot on this team because you deserved it.’
“And that was just a huge opening moment for me that I could do this and they weren’t gonna feel sorry for me”
Since becoming a part of his high school dance team, Gabe has gone on to compete in a dance competition, placing second and even appeared on the Maury Show in the US. And as his confidence as a dancer has grown, Gabe has started pursuing a career as a motivational speaker.
He said: “I’ve been doing speaking for almost four years now and it's pretty crazy with all the places that I’ve been able to go to and meet so many amazing people and hear their stories and hear how I’ve been able to help them.
“I have been able to accomplish so much and I think it is funny when people say, do you wish you had prosthetics, and my answer is always, no, because I have already come so far in my independence without them that I wouldn’t want them now and have to re learn everything just for those prosthetics.
"I like my body the way it is and I am proud of what It is capable of doing.”