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Born Without Legs, Teen Athlete Goes for Gold


Tulia Jimenez-Vergara was at an orphanage holding a baby found in the garbage when Miguel first ran into her. He was only two years old and full of joy and energy, shouting “Look at me!” as he dashed around the room with ease — even though he had no legs.

Tulia was a young unmarried grad student who had returned to Columbia to visit her dying father. An uncle asked her to help bring food to the sisters of Hogar Luz y Vida, a Catholic orphanage. Run by Sister Valeriana Garcia, they only take the most difficult-to-place children. Tulia wanted to adopt a child, and here was a boy born without legs yet refusing to be set aside or slowed down.

She came back to America, began a job as a Spanish professor at the College of New Jersey and started working to bring him home. It took more than a year, and his transition to life in America with a new family wasn’t always smooth. Now 15, Miguel thinks he had difficulty adapting to his new home because he bonded with the nuns and missed the orphanage, the only home he remembered. He was also hyperactive and would eventually be diagnosed with ADHD, which he considers as much of a disability as his lack of legs. School was difficult, and the teachers weren’t helping. He couldn’t focus, didn’t get along with people and had trouble getting his work done.

All of this made Miguel and Tulia’s early years together a challenge. When he was six, however, he met members of the North Jersey Navigators, which runs programs to help disabled children engage in sports. For Miguel, sports would solve two problems: his ADHD, and the way the world perceived him.

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