You might already be aware of Sean Brame's story of courage and stubborn determination. If you're lucky enough to have rubbed elbows with him these last five years, you already know there's not much he can't do once he sets his mind to it.
So part of what follows will be an update about a young man's life lived to its fullest despite trials and tribulations so daunting most of us could barely imagine them, much less put ourselves in his shoes.
Because since April 17, 2005, his shoes have been on the ends of prosthetic legs -- both legs -- starting six inches above the ankle on the left leg and six inches below the knee on the right leg.
And the hands that pull on those shoes? Sean's missing those, too. His right hand has been amputated at the wrist and the only thing remaining on his left hand is his index finger and one-quarter of his thumb.
No matter how you look at it, life has not been kind to Brame, the 14-year-old son of Michael and Carol Brame of York Haven. But you'll never hear him say that. That would sound like whining, and this young man is no whiner.
Sean was playing youth soccer -- he was a 9-year-old third-grader in the Red Land School District at the time -- when he was tackled from behind. He fell to the ground, and he immediately knew his ankle was hurt. But doctors looked at it and initially diagnosed it as a simple sprain.
Except that there was nothing simple about it. He awakened at 2 the next morning with unbelievable pain, and it went downhill fast from there. Before he knew what was happening, he was in the hospital. In short order he was diagnosed with a serious case of compartment syndrome -- a compression of nerves, blood vessels, and muscle within the body leading to tissue death.
That was followed by sepsis, which is basically blood poisoning or a severe infection that spreads through the bloodstream.
The end result was 10 weeks in a coma and two surgeries that ended in the amputation of parts of both hands and legs.
Does Sean ever ask, "Why me?" Well, sure he has. But the passage of time has taught him that "sometimes it's better not knowing."
That's the part of his story you might be familiar with.
To learn the rest of the story (for now), you'll have to fast-forward five years to December 2010. Brame is now a high school freshman and a member of the Red Land Patriots swimming team.
How is that possible you might ask? I asked it, too. In my mind's eye, I tried to picture myself trying to swim without legs and with most of both hands missing. I imagined myself bobbing like a cork in the water or sinking to the bottom of the pool like a rock, unable to propel myself in any direction because I had no feet to kick and no hands to pull myself through the water.
Could Sean do any better? You can bet your last dollar he can. And does. Every day. In fact, he swims in every meet, usually doing either the freestyle or backstroke as a member of one of the Patriots' relay teams.
On Monday afternoon, I found Sean lying on the floor in a corner of the Patriots' natatorium, studying biology with several friends and a teacher while waiting for his race to be called. He is working extra hard on biology, his mother said, because he didn't do well on a recent project. Without hands, she said, he struggled to complete the project on time and he waited too late to ask for help. Oh well, another lesson learned.
Later, Sean swam the first lap of the 200 freestyle relay against Trinity. His goal, he says, is to win every race -- "I'm always trying for first place." And for good reason, he says, "because no one remembers who came in second."
But Sean didn't win the race. He didn't place second, either. His mother says it best: "He's slower than all get out," she said, "but he goes."
Beth Hockenbery, the head swimming coach at Red Land, is one of Sean's biggest supporters. "He works hard. He's stubborn, which probably works to his advantage most of the time. And he never complains. ... Great attitude. ... He's well accepted by the other kids; in fact, they go out of their way to help him when he needs it. He's a great inspiration to the team. He's a normal kid -- no difference."
Except, of course, that he's an amputee four times over.
It helps, too, that Sean has always had a competitive nature, whether it be in school where he's a distinguished honor roll student, in athletics, in Boy Scouts -- try earning your knot-tying merit badge when you don't have hands or fingers -- and in life. He's done the distance for the mile swim merit badge (5,280 feet or 36 laps of the Red Land pool) at least three times, his mother said.
Coach Hockenbery's goal for Sean is for him to become proficient in the butterfly stroke. Can he do it, I asked. "Absolutely," she said. No doubt in her mind.
"People try to tell me I can't do something," he said, "and I try to prove them wrong. No one tells me what I can or can't do."
Sean's climbed walls and run zip lines with the Boy Scouts, his mother said. He can cook. He dresses himself. He doesn't do zippers, but he can do buttons. And he doesn't do laundry -- yet. The sky's the limit.
As far as swimming goes, Sean simply loves the water, the serenity of it. It's what motivated him to go out for swimming in the first place.
"It's comfortable," he said about being in the pool. "I get into a zone where I feel like I can just go on forever. Nothing can hurt me when I'm swimming."
And when you watch him swim, you can almost imagine him being in a trance-like state, pulling himself through the water, one lap after another, not a care in the world.
His motto -- "Never say you can't, because differently you can." -- seems to ring truest then.
It serves him well.
His life goal, he said, is to study bio-medical engineering at Penn State. He eventually wants to design prosthetic devices -- for himself and for others.
But for now, Sean's in the ninth grade. Three more years before graduation from high school. Lots more miles in the water. Lots more races to swim. And there is the butterfly stroke. Maybe he'll swim it in a race some day.
I wouldn't bet against it.
Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Thursdays. E-mail: email@example.com