Why Not? Competing as an Extreme Athlete After Amputation

By Jade Waddy

For Artis Thompson, III, there’s nothing that he can’t do as an extreme athlete.

Growing up in Houston, Thompson was active in sports despite the doubts and opinions of naysayers due to his weight. Those opinions fueled his adrenaline to give his best on the field and carried his football career all the way to the semi-professional level. As an adult, Thompson moved to the Katy area, where he began his career in personal training, instilling that same spirit of achievement into his clients.

“I’ve always been someone to go against what others have to say about me,” said Thompson. “I wanted the people I train to have that same spirit as they tackle each of their workouts.” Thompson’s unshakeable faith, love for fitness and his family got him through one of the worst moments of his life.

The Accident that Nearly Ended His Life

In February 2011, Thompson was riding his motorcycle on his way to work and hit a bump causing his motorcycle to flip. As a result, his left leg was caught in the chain, which ripped his leg from the shin down to the ankle.

“As I’m laying waiting for paramedics, I’m thinking to myself this is it for me and I’m going to bleed out on the highway,” recalled Thompson. “I take my belt off and tie it around my leg as a tourniquet to try to control the bleeding.”

Thompson was transported via Memorial Hermann Life Flight® to the Red Duke Trauma Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, a Level I trauma center. Doctors there saved his life, but were unable to save his leg. In addition, Thompson suffered nerve damage to his right arm.

Thompson stayed in the hospital for less than three weeks. “During this time, all I could think about was all of the things I wanted to do despite my circumstances and being told of the things I would no longer be able to do,” said Thompson, “All I could think and ask myself was ‘why not?’”

Thompson used his athletic ability and expertise in personal training to push him through rehabilitation and learning to walk with his prosthetic leg. After receiving  his prosthetic leg at the end of May, he was back at work a few days later.

Returning to the Game He Loved

Now a below-the-knee amputee, Thompson used his attitude of ‘why not?’ as he returned to the football field. It was there he impressed his coach and team with his speed. “There was some doubt on how fast I would be able to run and I told everyone don’t worry about it, I can do this,” said Thompson. “When I finished, all they could ask and wonder was how.”

Thompson excelled so well that football season he made All Star and played two positions for his team.

Competing on American Ninja Warrior

As this new chapter in his life unfolded, Thompson continued to ‘wow’ his clients, family and friends with his athletic ability. “One day, I received a call from a friend telling me about a television athletic competition called American Ninja Warrior. “When he told me, I said I wasn’t interested,” said Thompson. “Later that day, I got to a training session and a client mentioned the show again and told me she thought I should try out for it. Not long after, I received a call from my aunt, but I brushed off both of their suggestions.”

It was almost a sign when later that evening, Thompson turned on his television and the show was playing. He did some research and found a Houston-based competitor with whom he could train. “Initially, the other competitor questioned how I was still this strong, how I could jump so high and whether or not I would be able to do the competition,” said Thompson. “I told him I wanted to do it and I was going to do it.

Thompson went on to compete in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Inspiring Other Amputees

Thompson recently shared his story to empower attendees at the Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital H.E.L.P Amputee Support Group, hosted by the Centers for Mobility and Prosthetics at Memorial Hermann Southwest. Through his words, he encouraged attendees to find their own “why” and what fuels them to help them reach the next stage in their lives. He reminded them that how they became an amputee doesn’t make them who they are. “We can’t change the past, but we can change the present. What matters is what you’re going to do about it and what you want to do,” he said. “Ask yourself ‘why not?’ What, what is stopping you from achieving your vision?”

To learn more about the Red Duke Trauma Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center visit https://trauma.memorialhermann.org/.

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