Starstruck: Tom Dempsey

If you haven’t heard of Tom Dempsey… Imagine a disability. Pick the one thing that should be the hardest to accomplish for a person with that disability. Watch them become the best in the world at it. Now you’ve heard of Tom Dempsey.

Tom Dempsey kickerTom Dempsey was born without fingers on his right hand or toes on his right foot. Surely this would be discouraging for an aspiring athlete. But it turns out that even with those disadvantages, he not only kicked for the NFL in the 70’s, he tore it up!!

Dempsey is probably most known for his 63-yard game winning field goal in 1970. In the past 42 years, no one has been able to beat this record! (To be fair, a few have matched it).

It seems like every successful disabled athlete out there has to endure criticism that their disability or their equipment gives them unfair advantages over their peers. As is the custom, Dempsey, too, endured this obligatory scrutiny.

Even though ESPN Sport Science found that Dempsey’s modified shoe gave him no advantage and likely a disadvantage, the NFL decided to add the “Tom Dempsey Rule”. It stated: “any shoe that is worn by a player with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe”.

But kicking isn’t Dempsey’s true pride and passion. He loved hitting. He’d tackle anyone; he was absolutely fearless. Unfortunately, after 3 confirmed concussions, 66 year old Dempsey is now learning to deal with a new disability: dementia.

In January of this year, Dempsey shared his condition publicly. He met Dr. Amen (I can’t imagine a more trustworthy sounding name for a doctor. Dr. Amen: the answer to your prayers. Yeah, I just came up with that, no biggie 😛 ) who was doing a study on former football players with brain disorders. He described Dempsey’s condition as ‘an emergency’ upon seeing his brain scans. Dempsey has 3 holes in his brain and is now taking steps to slow down it’s progression.

What an inspiration–going after your dreams with brain-clobbering passion!

Read this great article featuring an interview with Dempsey and his wife about his career and his struggle with dementia. 

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