never say never

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I reported and wrote the piece of this feature on Donald Arthur.


Dara TorresThe 41-year-old is competing for an Olympic spot against women half her age. Whenever anyone says anything negative, she says, it motivates me more.




Never Say


PROVE THAT ATTITUDE NO MATTER HOW STEEP THE ODDSA hard, cold rain sweeps over an outdoor pool at the CoralSprings Aquatic Complex in South Florida, driving bystanders to huddle under an awning. In the pool, Dara Torres keeps swimming. Lap after methodical lap, ip turn after ip turn, she cuts through her lane with a muscular freestyle. And when lifeguards sound a lightningD O N A L D M I R A L L E / A L L S P O R T/ G E T T Y I M A G E S


alarm, warning the swimmers out of the pool, she persists, refusing to be deterred even as the storm builds. At 41, nearly twice the age of most world-class athletes in her sport, Torres has deed more than just weather in her historic bid to become the rst over-40 swimmer to compete

in the Olympic Games. Shes also ignored conventional wisdom and the dismissive comments of other athletes. Some competitors of mine say Im too old, says Torres, a four-time Olympian whos won four gold medals and is the mother of a two-year-old girl. Someone was quoted saying, I dont know why shes still swimming. She should be staying home taking care of her kid. As long as Im swimming as fast as they are, whats the problem? Actually, shes swimming faster. The Olympic trials begin on June 29, and Torres is currently the fastest American woman in her event: the 50-meter freestyle. You shouldnt put an age on your dreams, she says. People need to try, not say, I cant do this because Im too old. Robert Spencer Knotts

ROAD WARRIORDonald Arthur ticks off the marathons hes done in the last 12 years: New York City (ten times), Los Angeles, Alaska 27 in all. His goal is to complete the grueling 26.2-mile road race in each of the 50 states; he has 34 to go. And yet it wasnt so long ago that Arthur couldnt so much as chew his food without becoming exhausted. To walk a block could take me more than an hour, says the 63-year-old retired bookkeeper, who lives in the Bronx, New York. Facing death from dilated cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart he blames on decades of cigarettes and156 alcohol, Arthur had only one option, his doctors told him: a transplant. He recalls the precise moment 6:10 p.m. on August 2, 1996when he got the call that a donor heart had become available. A 25-year-old man named Fitzgerald Gittens had died from a bullet intended for someone else. After ve hours in surgery, Arthur had a brand-new heart. Soon enough, he could walk up stairs without tiring. That was just the beginning. A fellow patient told him about the Achilles Track Club, which helps peoREADERS DIGEST 06/08

P H O T O G R A P H E D B Y R U D Y A R C H U L E TA / R E D U X

D A R R E N E N G L A N D / A L L S P O R T/ G E T T Y I M A G E S

Donald ArthurA family was willing to give me their loved ones heart, says the 63-year-old marathoner and transplant recipient. Now Im not going to let anything stop me.

Brittany BlytheAmputated legs didnt keep this 18-year-old from becoming a cheerleader. She never cared if she got funny looks, says a former teacher. She never let anything intimidate her.

ple with disabilities run marathons. Arthur contacted the clubs president, who told him he could complete a marathon if he trained hard enough. I thought he was crazy, but I went down to the club anyway and saw people who were blind and people in wheelchairs, Arthur says. I was hookedabsolutely hookedby the way these individuals looked at life. The club, he says, gave me a belief in myself. He joined its six-mile walks around Central Park, then moved up to racewalking to improve his en-

durance. Fifteen months after his transplant, he nished his rst New York City Marathon. In 2001, in the prelude to the Winter Games, Arthur carried the Olympic torch on part of its journey. But his most memorable run was the 1999 New York City Marathon, when he was accompanied by Mack Andrews, the brother of the man whose heart now beats in his chest. I put Macks hand over my heart once we nished, Arthur says, and I told him that his brother lives on.

HIGH FLYERKa th ryn M . T y ra n ski a n d Neena Samuel

In seventh grade, Brittany Blythedreamed of being a cheerleader. Her schools coaches were less than enthusiastic. They said, I dont know how youll be able to do it, she recalls. You wont be able to do the stunts. But Brittany, now a junior at Strath Haven High School near Philadelphia, persisted. And when the junior varsity cheerleaders won a tournament last year, she was right there, dancing and cheering with the rest of the squad. Not bad for someone whose legs were amputated below the knee when she was two years old. Brittany, 18, was born without shinbonesjust blood and muscle tissue, as she puts it. When she tried to walk, her legs twisted and buckled. After the amputation, she adapted quickly. From day one, I basically jumped up and wanted to do everyREADERS DIGEST

thing, she says. Prosthetic legs allowed her to move around upright, but too slowly to keep up with her friends. Brittanys solution: take the legs off and walk on her knees something she still does when safety and comfort permit. Shes rarely daunted. Other children teased her through the years, especially in junior high school, but she says the challenge only made her stronger. Now shes trying to convince her coaches to let her shed the prostheses and be a yer, the cheerleader whos thrown in the air and caught by her teammates. Brittany doesnt think her problems are any more difcult than the next persons. My disability was the rst thing I had to get through, and thats going to prepare me for the future, she says. Its all just a test: If someone throws you a curveball, what are you 159