by Lauren Ringo
Corey Walls, a 22-year-old amputee from Westville, Ohio, found his gateway into a fit lifestyle through the Nashville Sled Preds, a sled hockey team that competes with the same rules as typical ice hockey, with the exception of some equipment. Rather than using skates, players sit in individually designed sleds that have two blades. To propel themselves, players use two sticks with picks on the end. It is truly an incredible sport that allows all types of athletes to participate. With the sponsorship of The National Wheelcats, Breakaway Hockey, and On Target 4 Vets, it is possible for athletes with disabilities to accomplish personal goals and become a viable, hardworking member in their communities. The team is a place where the community means everything. It offers the constant challenge to focus on agility, resistance, and balance, all while providing a community of determined individuals who inspire each other to overcome obstacles. The beauty of it is in the diversity—everyone comes together for a common goal, regardless of their experiences or stories.
To illustrate one of the many inspirational stories the Sled Preds offers, Walls was born with a leg/foot size discrepancy, causing chronic pain and the inability to participate in many athletic activities later in life. At 18 months old, he was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer that starts in the white blood cells. After remission, he relapsed at the age of two. It was difficult for him and his peers to accept his differences, and that contributed to a long and tough journey. However, Walls had hopes of playing sports and participating in the marching band following his first foot corrective surgery in 8th grade.
After the surgery, Walls still experienced constant, extreme pain, which had a huge impact on his lifestyle and strength. A few years later, during his sophomore year of high school and a week before the state final, Walls broke his foot in half after taking his first step backwards in the halftime show. He continued to march for eight and a half minutes through extreme pain. Later that night, he discovered there was no blood flow to the foot, and after many attempts to stimulate regrowth in his bones, Walls, his family, and their doctors decided that his best chance to live an active life again would be amputation. At only 16 years old, this was the hardest thing for Walls to hear, but he had hope that this could be his chance to make his goals a reality.
After his lower left leg was amputated, Walls struggled to find his strength and hope again, but he experienced a significant moment in history that flipped his mentality. During the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Oscar Pistorius became the first ever amputee to compete in the olympics. Walls expressed, “Sure he came in dead last, but that was the moment I realized I can be more than this. So I decided to fight even harder.” Following this experience, he started weightlifting and training multiple times a day. He was determined to become a paralympian; he wanted people to see how hard it was, and have someone to look up to for strength.
His journey didn’t quite flourish until March of 2017 when he heard about the Nashville Sled Preds. There he found the great relief of knowing there’s a huge community that loves the active lifestyle he has always aspired to have. Through the Sled Preds community, Walls experienced the acceptance and strength that comes with surrounding himself with a group of tenacious guys who are all jumping over hurdles together. “Everyone has a different story and a different situation, so we all inspire each other. The community is everything.” Within this organization, no one is looked down on, and everyone is treated equally, regardless of their age or situation. For Walls, it’s an honor to compete on a team that consists of players who were born with disabilities, injured, and courageously served our country. I had the pleasure of speaking with his teammate and former Marine, Ben Maenza, whose passion is in the intensity of the competition, and the full speed, full contact hockey. It offers him an outlet and the ability to set goals to work toward. “I love it. On the ice, everyone’s disabilities are eliminated. We’re all just playing hockey.” The real inspiration is in this team. It’s astonishing what these guys can do, how strong they are, and how fast they move on the ice.
As Walls says, “You do you. You have to find that one simple thing that brings you joy in your life, and I’m having a blast.” The thing about having a community to fall back on, is that they’re always going to be there. They’re the home that you can rely on while you’re jumping your hurdles. A community like the Sled Preds offers a purpose, whether a player can’t walk, has Down syndrome, or has a prosthetic. That’s the amazing thing about it; you can be any kind of athlete and still participate. What it truly means to have a community is to have the greatest thing in the world.
A Pennsylvania native, Amy Bream was born with a competitive drive and a great sense of humor— two qualities that have made a lasting impact on her lifelong journey. Bream was born without a majority of her left leg. However, this never stopped her from learning to walk, taking swim lessons, and now crushing her goals day in and day out.
As a child, Bream’s parents were determined to instill in her a positive attitude and an active lifestyle. While learning to ride a bike, for example, Bream struggled to keep her foot on the pedal, so her parents took a string and tied her foot to the pedal so that she could learn to ride. Her parents gave her the strong background she needed to believe that anything is possible when you put your mind to it and positively embrace who she is. Bream has had a hard time accepting that until recently though.
Throughout high school, Bream pushed herself to stay active, even though it came as a challenge. An activity as small as walking usually takes 60-80 percent more energy than someone with both legs. She found it difficult to be accepting of herself and struggled with self-esteem; always trying to blend in and be like everyone else.
Bream took the looks and questions from people as a sign that she shouldn’t be different, but her brother-in-law changed her perspective. He told Bream that her outlook on her situation is directly reflected in how she interacts with people. His straight-forward advice helped her realize the more open and relaxed she is, the more approachable she is for the curious. She started to see that those people just didn’t know how to start the conversation. His advice helped her become a stronger individual when she came to Nashville in 2014. With a newly transformed perspective, her approachability brought many more friendships and comfortable situations into her life. “I made situations fun—I was just being me.”
After moving to Nashville, she met one of her now closest friends, Erin, who was the first person she had ever met who also has a birth defect. “Up to this point, I was still trying to blend in, but this was the first person who I could connect with on the actual thought process that happens when you ask me to ‘go for a walk’.” This newfound relationship gave her comfort and trust. “I finally stopped trying to look like everyone else and decided to be comfortable in my own skin, loving how I was created and what I’m physically capable of doing.” This budding mindset turned working out from a chore into a celebration of what she can do. Bream recently started kickboxing, where she learned that no one, especially the trainer, was out to get her, but rather there to encourage her. Their motivation helped her to do her best and reach goals she once wouldn’t have thought possible.
Today, this “all or nothing” 25-year-old leads through example. Her Instagram and blog, “One Leg to Stand On,” creates a space where she can be honest and encouraging. “If I want to encourage others to do something, I need to do it myself.” Her perspective is that a lot of people—almost everyone—comes to the gym with their own obstacles, but they don’t get attention for it the way she does. Therefore, she strives to earn the attention that she gets: “when I work out, I don’t want to be the girl that they have to make it easier for. I’m competitive and I want to do more.”
Her movement is something she believes to never take for granted. During her first year in Nashville, Bream broke her wrist while working out and realized that she had been taking the movement she was capable of for granted. “I had always put myself down for things I couldn’t do, but I was so humbled and grateful for what I am capable of doing.” This experience not only instilled a sense of gratitude, but also pushed her to try nearly everything she could. Climbing, boxing, interval training, kayaking, and paddleboarding all became objectives and her competitive nature and honesty resonates with her followers and readers. She wants her life and her Instagram to exhibit these qualities as well. “I realized a ton of people who don’t have physical disabilities struggle with self-confidence too, so if anything I do inspires people or encourages someone to try something new, even if I look foolish,” she says with a laugh, “it’s worth it.”
It’s been rewarding for Bream to be a source of help and inspiration for someone going through a difficult time, whether they are dealing with amputation or body confidence. She tries to give her best advice and pass on all the encouragement she has received from her family, friends, and trainers. Her biggest piece of advice is to stay determined and grateful. “I always want to give the most everyday because I might not be able to do it tomorrow. If I get hurt again and can’t work out, would I be proud with yesterday’s work?” This sense of gratitude and strength has led her to see that her rocky path just proves she is alive and well.
“I can’t do anything about the past, and I don’t know what the future holds, but when I wake up in the morning, I will strive higher, rise above obstacles, and live in victory.”
These are the words of Armia Habib, a 27-year-old who lost both of his legs to a train accident in his home country, Egypt. Running to catch a train, Habib fell on the broken sidewalk, causing both of his legs to slip under the train. He described the misery and pain in that moment as unthinkable.
After the accident, things didn’t get much easier for Habib. At the time of the injury, Habib weighed 231 pounds, and his only form of exercise now was moving from the wheelchair to his bed. He was experiencing so much pain that it was even difficult for his family to bear, and his social life dwindled dramatically. He didn’t want to see anyone, whether they were strangers or friends; they all made him feel incomplete by the way they looked at him. Going out wasn’t easy either. A majority of the Egyptian streets and sidewalks were made of dirt, and many places were not accessible due to a lack of ramps. He found interest and spent a majority of his time learning Photoshop and graphic design, freelancing for businesses and his church. It wasn’t until he started noticing the strength in his arms from pushing his wheelchair around that he felt a desire to do more.
So began his fitness journey. Habib started exercising in his garage, doing wide push-ups and dips between boxes. Next, he invested in a pull-up bar that he was able to lower to make accessible, and one year from the time of his accident, Habib did his first pull-up. After that, it got crazy. Habib started venturing out into gyms in Egypt. Although he struggled to find accessible gyms, he tried his best to made it work. He was trying new exercises and training with his cousins. They spent much of their time learning planks, pull-ups, muscle-ups, and exercises on the parallel bars at his house.
Once he moved to Nashville, Habib found an amazing environment in which he could flourish. He discovered many people on social media who were just like him, who conquered their barriers, used their time to gain strength, and have the ability to face anything. Moving from gym to gym, Habib was able to push himself even more—and eventually he had to find gyms with heavier dumbbells. This journey helped him build more platforms to inspire others in the gym. “People in Nashville encourage me. They always say something like, ‘You inspire me, keep going.’” One individual who made a huge impact on his fitness journey is his trainer Dominique from CrossFit Silver Dragon. She helped him learn proper form, functional fitness and flexibility. Armia continued learning by trying a new movement every day, especially calisthenic movements, which are his favorite type of workout; it allows him to try street workouts and utilize the Nashville Street Workout Park at Ascend Amphitheater. He recently built a gym at home where he can practice these movements more freely, learn new exercises, and, of course, utilize his parallel bars.
When it comes to fears, Habib is pushing himself to conquer all that he can. He shared that one of his favorite pictures and proudest moments is when he was doing a handstand on train tracks with a train in the background. This picture is so meaningful to him; at first, he was afraid to even go near a train, but this picture represents his triumph over that fear. “I was under a train and so close to dying, but I was given a reset button and a new life now,” he says. He is a huge advocate of believing everything will be OK and get better if you continue to stay positive. With what he’s been through, everything seems easier to him, and he feels like he can mentally prepare himself for anything.
In the midst of his crazy journey, Habib expresses a lot of gratitude for being here and having the opportunity to achieve more and inspire others. He often looks up to Olympians like Michael Phelps and Instagram athletes like Zack Ruhl, admiring their ability to work through pain. He says, “Life is like a game, a hard game. But when you’ve won once, you know how to win again.” He reiterated the importance of understanding patience. When you push yourself, you will get what you want if you understand a certain mindset: if you didn’t get it today, you will get it tomorrow. Habib is a perfect example of patience and the will power and mind it takes to overcome fears, become stronger, and achieve unthinkable goals.