CLEARWATER, Fla. — Laura Stephan was born with hands and feet that look much different from most of her friends'. Over time, she’s learned to do whatever she puts her mind to.
Fishing has always been a family pastime. Her father, Tom, is an avid outdoorsman. The chance to get out on the water is rarely missed. This weekend, she had company.
“I caught the most fish,” she said.
Laura was on a fishing charter with other limb-different kids. It was a day camp offered by Sam Kuhnert’s nonprofit NubAbility Athletics Foundation.
“Every kid deserves a chance to play and every kid deserves to know that they can do it,” said Kuhnert.
Since 2011, Kuhnert has been hosting large camps for kids with limb differences, including missing fingers, hands, feet, and more. His hope, as a former college athlete, is to inspire kids to try as many sports as possible and forget about their perceived “disability."
“I was a three-sport athlete. I was born without my left hand,” he said Monday morning while driving 15 hours back to Illinois from Florida. “With playing sports I had a lot of opportunities pressed up on me.”
NubAbility typically hosts 2-3 day camps around the nation for hundreds of limb-different children. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the nonprofit to shift to a day-camp model with much fewer children to avoid potentially spreading the virus. On Saturday, Kuhner and a few other NubAbility coaches made the trip to Clearwater to host a fishing camp for kids.
“There was a competition,” said Laura, one of seven kids who attended. “I wanted to get to 40 after I got to 30.”
Having the chance to fish with other limb-different kids her own age was a worthwhile experience for Laura, who was born with just two digits on each of her hands and feet. The limb-different kids from Tampa Bay boarded a deep-sea fishing boat and spent three hours learning to fish. The group collectively caught 65 fish.
“That’s pretty incredible,” said Kuhnert. “We have every single kid fishing.”
One of the camper’s had no hand. Some children reeled in fish without fingers. Laura led the way with 34 herself.
“When those who lead it or limb-different and they tell the children nothing is impossible,” said Tom. “It’s a little different than your parents telling you nothing is impossible. When you have people out there with no hand, you know, one arm, no arms, telling you, ‘You can do this’, it’s a little different message.”
The NubAbility® Athletics Foundation exists to encourage, inspire, instruct limb different youth by getting them out of the stands, off the bench and into mainstream sports, according to its website. Kuhnert affectionate refers to the gatherings as “Nub Camps”. It’s often the first time limb-different kids see anyone else who “look like them”. It offers a chance to try sports the kids otherwise would never experience.
Kuhnert’s latest one-day sports camp through NubAbility was a success by any measure. Despite having fewer attendees than his pre-COVID camps, he was thrilled to see the smiles on kid’s faces while fishing.
“You don’t adapt a sport to an athlete. You adopt an athlete to the sport. The sport never changes,” said Kuhnert.
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