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Rare Diseases

How Shaquem Griffin Defied the Odds to Play Football at the Highest Level

Nearly half of all children diagnosed with a rare disease don’t live to see their fifth birthday, and those who do are riddled with physical and mental impairments that prevent them from leading a normal life.

Shaquem Griffin, a linebacker for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, has defied those odds and more. 

Griffin, 24, was born with a rare birth defect called amniotic band syndrome, which caused him to experience severe pain in his hand. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, it affects between 1 in 1,200-15,000 live births and the exact cause is unknown.

When he was 4 years old, Griffin attempted to amputate his own hand with a kitchen knife to relieve the extreme discomfort he felt. Eventually, his parents and doctor decided medical amputation was the best choice.

The rest is history. Now he’s the first person with one hand to be drafted into the NFL — a feat Griffin credits to his strong support system and a positive, determined mindset.

“When it came the time when people doubted me or told me I couldn’t do anything, I told them, ‘I don’t believe you. I know I can do this,’” Griffin said.

Making a mental shift 

Griffin said he wasn’t always this way. When he was young, he had to learn how to be positive. 

“My dad and mom used to tell me, ‘You can’t let anybody make excuses for yourself or let anybody tell you what you can’t do,’” he said, adding that his mom has always been a source of strength for him within his tight-knit family.

In the psychology of football, he said, there’s a term for this: positive self-talk. And it’s a practice Griffin employs regularly.

“For me, it was anything you go up to, even through negativity, I have a choice to make,” he explained. “I think any kid who wants to be able to do whatever they want has to say, ‘You know, I got this.’”

On his off days, Griffin still remains positive and tries to focus on self-improvement. 

“It’s all about knowing what small thing I can do that’s gonna put me in a better place, a better situation. What small thing can I do to make my day better?” he said.

Inspiring others

When the Seahawks drafted Griffin in 2018, he said the news was “a lot” to take in at first, as he never pictured himself becoming a role model. He is grateful, however, and humbled by the opportunity. 

He said he’s excited about the prospect of inspiring others who may think of their physical differences as limitations. 

“I’m ready to show others there’s no excuse for not achieving your dreams and fighting for what you want,” he said.

For others with physical differences who are striving to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, Griffin offered a piece of advice: “Keep fighting, keep chasing your dreams, and keep working.

“You gotta know you can do it, you gotta want to do it, and you gotta fight for it. The easy way out isn’t always the right way out,” Griffin said. “All that adversity shapes you.”

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