CARL JUNCTION, Mo. — Watching 11-year-old Eli Schultz play football, you might assume he’s just your average sports-loving kid. Although he has a love for the game, Eli isn’t your typical boy.
Currently, a 5th grader in Carl Junction, Missouri, Eli has faced more challenges than most people go through in an entire lifetime. A native of Ghana, Eli was diagnosed at birth with a rare congenital disorder called Amniotic Band Syndrome (ABS).
ABS occurs when the lining of the amniotic sac is damaged during pregnancy. This creates string-like strands of tissue in which the fetus gets tangled. These strands may wrap around different parts of the developing body, cutting off blood flow and preventing the baby from growing normally. The constricted blood flow causes a wide range of birth defects. ABS caused Eli to be born without his lower left leg. It also left him without several fingers and toes. It would take six surgeries to get him to where he is today.
“He has had a number of surgeries to give him as much function as possible, including two-finger separations and three leg amputation revisions. His most recent amputation revision was using the Ertl Procedure, and while that rehab and recovery was brutal, it has had a tremendous impact on his ability to run without pain,” said Eli’s father, Tobin Schultz.
At just 13 months old, Eli was adopted by Tobin and Shannon Schultz of Carl Junction.
“The first year he came home, I coached against a freshman from another school who competed with a prosthetic. He got to go in the game for one play as time expired, and my players felt guilty for hitting him. I wondered if that was how ‘able-bodied’ sports might be for Eli. We spent a lot of time researching adaptive equipment that could help him accomplish ‘normal tasks.’ We researched adaptive sports and activities, not knowing what he would be able to participate in,” said Tobin.
Encouraged by their research, Tobin and Shannon got their son involved in wrestling. He also competed at special track meets against other athletes with limb differences, but there was another sport that Eli would become interested in.
“When I was young, I liked to tackle my dad, and I used to wrestle with him. But when I started getting older, I would watch football on TV and thought it looked fun,” said Eli.
“When he decided to play football, I encouraged him to play guard because I didn’t know if he could run well enough or secure the ball well enough to be a quarterback. When he started typing class, we got him a special keyboard he could use his thumbs to type with,” said Tobin.
Between special training and special parents who encouraged their young boy to go after his dreams, Eli was able to play quarterback this year, and on the first play during the first game of the season, he scored a touchdown.
“It’s not bad being a quarterback because I’ve got my best friends Canyon and Carter, and it’s your friends that help you out the most if you mess up or have a bad play and stuff like that,” said Eli.
Determined not to let his physical challenges get in the way of the sport he loves, and with the help of his best friends, his teammates and his dad, Eli would lead the 5th-grade Bulldog football team to a winning season and a spot in the upcoming Superbowl game against East Newton.
“I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way, and so I worked really hard, and my friends helped to encourage me to put in a lot of work. We all lifted weights every day, two days a week. In the offseason, we lifted weights on Saturdays, and we did speed training and conditioning,” said Eli.
“We are very thankful for his team of teachers, coaches, mentors, teammates, friends, doctors, trainers, and therapists. He has a huge and truly amazing support system who motivate him and help him reach his goals.”
Eli, who knows a little something about overcoming adversity, has some advice for those out there who may be faced with a disadvantage.
“You know, people will tell you, ‘you can’t do that,’ but you just have to go out there and show them that, ‘yes, you can.’
“There’s a lesson my son has taught me, and that’s to never underestimate him and that God has a very special and unique purpose for his life. He isn’t content competing against others with similar differences, he wants to compete against everyone. He wants to type faster than anyone else using the same keyboard — hit harder, run faster and throw farther than any ‘able-bodied’ athlete.”