Like lots of kids, Brady Whipple enjoys dancing.
He likes the music, the steps, moving his body to the rhythm. And he also likes the fact that, as a double amputee who dances on two prosthetic legs, it lets him be like other kids.
“It’s cool because I like everything that goes with dance,” he said, happily demonstrating how he taps. “It’s excellent.”
And now the precocious 8-year-old is even participating in two dance competitions this spring.
“I’m excited,” said his mom, Jacqueline Whipple.
“I’m the kind of mom that’s always told my kids – all four are adopted and three have special needs – to do whatever they can do,” she said, “because the world is going to tell these kids there are so many things they can’t do.”
Jacqueline and Jason Whipple endured years of infertility before turning to adoption. And one January day in 2008, they received an email asking whether they were interested in a baby boy who was going to be born perfect from the knees up.
“My husband is a Shriner and he’s in a wheelchair because he was paralyzed in the service, so we said OK,” Jacqueline recalled. “And we knew before we brought him home that we were likely facing some sort of amputation.”
‘Jumble of bones’
Brady was born with bilateral fibular hemimelia, a condition that left him with only a tibia – no fibia – in his legs, she said. And his feet were a jumble of bones and cartiledge – the left one severely clubbed – that would never support him.
So Shriners pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Westberry advised amputation when he was about a year old.
“That’s the best time because the child never knows the difference then and all he’s known is walking with prosthetics,” his mom said. “We had pillows in the wagon and would drag him around, but that wasn’t good enough for him. He’d get on the floor and drag himself around and try to get up and walk.”
The surgery was performed in March 2009, two days after his first birthday. And after being in a cast for six weeks, he was fitted with prosthetic legs.
“By the Fourth of July, he was running,” she said. “And he hasn’t stopped since.”
Always an athletic child, Brady decided to try dancing after two of his sisters enrolled in a class for kids with special needs.
And while he takes tap classes with able-bodied students, his instructor, who also choreographed a lyrical dance for Brady that tells the story of his legs, wrote the organizers of a dance competition about her special needs class because there didn’t seem to be any competitions for them.
Now Brady will be competing with his regular class as well as the special needs class at two state-level competitions this spring – the 2017 Legacy Dance Championships at Ovens Auditorium in Charlotte in May and the 2017 Starpower Talent Competition at Cabarrus Arena in Concord, North Carolina.
As Brady has learned to dance, it’s been a lesson for his mom as well.
“At first, he was all over the place. Imagine when you can’t bend your ankle and try tapping your toe,” she said. “But one day, he came in and had tap shoes on his hands on the table, going heel – brush – step. He said, ‘I can feel it this way, so I can memorize it.’ ”
Brady had his first appointment at Shriners Hospital for Children in Greenville when he was 3 months old. And he’s had six or seven sets of prosthetic legs since to accommodate his growth.
His latest pair, unlike the earlier sets that were flesh-tone, sport a nautical theme.
“One time, I was on the boat with (friends) and it was fun, so that’s why I chose those them,” he said. “It was a good idea because I like riding on boats.”
His mom said her biggest concern with them was that they would be immediately identifiable as prosthetics and she worried whether he was ready to answer the questions that would come with that. When he was 4, she had told him that he didn’t have to tell anybody anything he wasn’t comfortable with and that he doesn’t always have to tell his whole story.
“So we were at a play area at McDonald’s one day and a kid said, ‘Where are your legs?’ And he said, ‘They’re down there by my mom.’ And the kid asked, ‘What happened?’ And he said, ‘Shark attack,’ ” she said with a chuckle. “This last year, he has really taken ownership.”
Whipple said the upcoming competitions are important because they mark the first year that dance students at the school with autism, Down syndrome, amputations and other special needs will compete against other children their age who are typical.
“It’ll be interesting because this group of 10 kids has such a wide variety of differences and it could turn out to be a hot mess or absolutely precious,” she said. “But the fact they’re putting themselves out there is what really matters, because this is something the dance world hasn’t really seen.”