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Preps

She can and does

Despite having one hand, Kristin Limpose not only plays basketball at Indian Rocks Christian, the 6-foot-1 eighth-grader thrives.

By LAURA LEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2003


LARGO -- Every coach has a favorite. A story so good, which proves a point so perfectly, it is endlessly repeated.

Indian Rocks Christian coach Phil Farver loves the one about Kristin Limpose, this girl who came to his summer basketball camp and kept saying the two words he hates.

"We were doing figure-eight drills," Farver said. "I'd be barking out directions, and she says to me, 'I can't.' "

After about the third "I can't," he'd had enough.

"Either you want to play basketball or you're going to make excuses the rest of your life," he told her. "You're going to figure out how to do this."

For Farver, "I can't" is unacceptable from anyone, even a third-grader with one hand.

* * *

"He tells that story every year," said Kristin, now 14 and an eighth-grader, revealing her braces in a smile, slightly amused to be immortal in IRC basketball.

But at the time, it wasn't funny. She remembers rolling her eyes at Farver and thinking, "I'm never going to be able to do this. I'm going to make a fool of myself in front of everyone."

Frustrated, she considered quitting but knew her parents wouldn't let her because "they didn't raise me like that."

"I just had to work it out," she said.

Six years later, Kristin, who plays junior varsity and a little varsity basketball at IRC, is still at it.

On the court, she knows she can be underestimated. The flow of her long 6-foot-1 body is disrupted by her left arm, which stretches just to her waist. She can sense her opponents' apprehension.

"I can tell by their faces," Kristin said. "Sometimes, I think they don't know what to expect. But because I'm taller, they have to go out there and play physically and aggressively.

"They're surprised I can actually play basketball with one hand. It's out of the ordinary -- kind of."

* * *

When Terri Limpose got pregnant in 1988, she and her husband, John, didn't want to know the gender of their first child.

"We were hoping for a happy, healthy baby," Terri said. "Which is what we have."

Kristin Leigh Limpose was born in Atlanta, perfectly healthy but without her left hand. The doctors explained it was amniotic band syndrome, an uncommon occurrence within the womb when fibrous tissues wrap around a fetus' extremities, sometimes cutting off the development of arms, legs, fingers or toes.

In Kristin's case, her left arm stopped growing a few inches past her elbow.

When she was 6 months old, the Limposes took Kristin to a Shriners hospital to have her fitted for a prosthetic hand. It was a hard, plastic arm with a metal claw on the end.

After the family moved to Florida, when Kristin was a little more than a year old, they went to the Shriners in Tampa periodically until she was 9, when she got her last prosthetic.

"We never really pushed her or said she had to use it," Terri said.

The artificial limbs came free from the Shriners but were hard to maneuver. And Kristin never was comfortable using them. Although she can go back to the Shriners any time until she is 18, she said she probably won't.

"I feel awkward with it more so than only having one hand," Kristin said.

* * *

Kristin was scared when she first started playing basketball. It was the summer before she entered the third grade. She had nothing to do, so her parents enrolled her in Farver's camp.

At 6 feet 7, John played basketball in high school and college in Ohio. Kristin, who still is growing, gets her height from him.

"I was bored that summer," Kristin remembers. "My dad had been trying to get me to play. I just gave in and went."

Although she had been going to IRC since kindergarten, she wasn't sure if she would fit in.

"People would treat me like dirt. Like I was a loser," Kristin said.

She adds forgivingly, "Little kids don't really understand."

Despite encouragement from her friends and coaches, some told her she couldn't do it, saying things such as, "I don't know why you're playing basketball. You only have one hand. You're probably not any good."

"I think people started to respect me more when I proved that I could do the things they can," she said.

Kristin stuck with basketball. She also plays the trumpet, runs track and plays volleyball. She is thinking about going out for softball in the spring. But even everyday tasks such as pulling her hair into a ponytail were a challenge for Kristin to master.

"I could give her a few pointers," her mother said. "But ultimately, she's the one who's got to figure out how to do it."

After a year trying, Kristin learned how to tie her shoes when she was 4.

"And when she learns how to drive," John said, "that will be another challenge."

* * *

The junior varsity Golden Eagles are getting their first test of the season against Berkeley Prep. This is nothing like their last game against Pinellas Christian Home School. IRC looked like an all-star team, coasting to a 48-7 victory. This game wouldn't be so easy. And Kristin, who scored eight points in about five minutes of varsity time the night before, watches shot after shot spin out of the basket. Only two go in.

John Limpose sits on the top bleacher in the IRC gymnasium trying to contain himself. He doesn't want to embarrass his daughter, but there are things he wants to remind her.

Finally, after a missed free throw bounces into an empty lane, he commands, "Block out!" His words fill the gym like a lone amen in a sparse church.

Kristin responded on the next missed shot, pinning her girl behind her, in perfect position for the rebound. The ball hits her in the numbers. It is a manageable landing place where her right hand and the end of her left arm can grip it. A few minutes later, a rebound slips through her grasp and falls, leaving a loose ball for an opponent to pick up.

"There are times when it's a problem. She can't get up and grab with two hands," Farver said, lifting his hands over his head, simulating pulling down a rebound. "Yeah, she can't make all the same moves as everybody. So what? Do what you can."

Her height gives Kristin a major advantage, and she is an easy target for just about any pass from her teammates. She averages about seven points and seven rebounds a game.

She and her father have been working on strengthing her inside game -- practicing a hook shot and tipping offensive rebounds back in.

Kristin is most proud of her defense, and when challenged inside, she can easily block shots.

"Even though she doesn't have two hands like everybody else on the court, her desire is unmatched," IRC JV coach Tom Oliphant said. "I think she's beginning to get it into her head that there's nothing she can't do."

* * *

Terri Limpose said when Kristin was born, she probably would not have expected her daughter to be involved in so many activities.

"Now I wouldn't put anything out of her reach," Terri said.

It is the same attitude Kristin has.

"Other people believed in me, and I started to believe, too," Kristin said.

Her father calls her an inspiration. Farver says she is amazing. Kristin declares it's no big deal.

"Now that I'm older, I don't really care," Kristin said. "I'm just happy that I'm alive."

She has goals of becoming a member of IRC's 1,000 points club and getting a scholarship. But for the time being, her biggest challenge is simply finding jeans long enough to keep up with her growing body.

Farver will continue to tell the same story. And Kristin will continue to do figure-eights because she figured it out.

She pulls the ball around with her right hand between her legs, pins it to one leg with her left arm, rolls it around and picks it up with her right hand.

A figure eight.

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