Playing for the U.S. National Soccer team and summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro are two accomplishments you likely wouldn’t expect to find on a 19-year-old's resume; especially one who achieved both of those impressive feats with only one leg.
But Nico Calabria, one of five amateur soccer players featured in Powerade’s 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign, is no stranger to exceeding society’s expectations. Born with one leg, Calabria’s perceived “disability” could have easily kept him on the sidelines if it weren’t for the support of his family.
“It was hard sometimes, but my family always had a ‘no excuse, tough love mentality’ when it came to overcoming challenges,” he says.
Calabria began kicking a ball around as a toddler. Despite wearing a prosthetic, he says it seemed natural. His dad and older brother both played, so for Calabria it “wasn’t a big deal.” But for those challenged with physical handicaps, his story is truly an inspiration.
At five years old, Calabria ditched his prosthetic right leg and picked up forearm crutches. On those crutches, he became fast enough to play in games with players who had both their legs.
“People usually think I was trying to make a statement by playing soccer with able-bodied people and not giving up, but really…” he says, "I just love playing soccer.”
Whether it was intentional or not, Calabria certainly has made a statement.
“I look at disabilities as ‘differences in ability’,” he explains. “There’s an important distinction. The definition of ‘disabled’ is basically a long list of synonyms that don’t describe me… like ‘crippled’ and ‘weak’.”
Instead, he refers to himself as "differently abled"—a term the young athlete says highlights the differences in what people are able to do without focusing on what they can’t do. It’s a message Calabria hopes to spread as part of his role in Powerade’s campaign.
Powering Through Adversity
“There’s Power in Every Game” is the new Powerade campaign for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, featuring FIFA World Cup Champion Andrés Iniesta, Calabria and four other amateur athletes who have used football to overcome challenges in their lives and inspire those around them in the process.
Calabria undoubtedly fits this description, says Andra London, Powerade’s global communications manager.
“Nico is a beautiful illustration not only of overcoming something that others would perceive as a serious challenge, but also of redefining our outlook on challenges. Having one leg was his reality, so he chose to view it as an asset rather than a hindrance,” says London. “For Nico, his difference in ability was not just an obstacle; it was an opportunity to inspire others with what a person is able to achieve. That’s what we loved about him.”
Calabria, who is now the youngest member of the U.S. National Amputee Soccer team, says he is honored to take part in such an inclusive campaign.
“I think it speaks volumes to how there are no boundaries or borders in soccer. It’s all about how people share the same love for the game,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what color skin you have, what gender you are, your physical condition, what country you’re from, or what language you speak. None of that matters.”
What matters is the power in each player’s game.
A Story to Tell
As a part of the Powerade campaign, Calabria will attend and take part in the NYC Kicking + Screening Soccer Film Festival on April 10. A 2-minute mini-documentary highlighting Calabria’s life story (featured below) will showcase at the event. Calabria says he was blown away by the final product that includes home videos his father, the family documentarian, recorded of him growing up.
“It makes me really appreciative of my parents and how supportive they were. Watching the video really highlights that,” Nico says.
After sharing his powerful story with other soccer enthusiasts, he will participate in a brief Q&A at the festival. For the soccer standout, the session will be a much-anticipated “warm-up” before joining Andrés Iniesta in Barcelona for an official Powerade media day later this month. Calabria couldn’t be more thrilled.
“It’s surreal and crazy that I get to meet one of the most dominating offensive midfielders in the game right now,” he said.
But ultimately, “I’m just so lucky to have this international platform to tell my story,” he adds.
Future Goals On and Off the Field
Once the campaign is all said and done, Calabria plans to attend Colorado College. He aspires to one day become a motivational speaker, coach and teacher and share his message of accomplishing personal goals with differences in ability.
Nico at summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro
While reminiscing about his own accomplishments and looking ahead to the future, Calabria recounted two life-defining memories that truly depict the dedication and compassion this young athlete and leader embodies.
Off the field was his “coming of age adventure.” At age 13, he became the first person to ever summit Mt. Kilimanjaro on crutches. During this rite of passage, he raised more than $100,000 for a charity with a particular importance to Calabria, the Free Wheelchair Mission.
On the field, he says his biggest accomplishment was scoring a goal against the Mexican National Amputee Team, winning 2-1. It was his first game playing for the U.S. National team and a true testament to the idea that there really is power in every game.
“It was a proud moment to wear my country’s colors and hear the national anthem and to realize that you’re playing for more than a team victory, you’re playing to represent your country.”
The budding star will represent the United States at the 2014 Amputee Football World Cup on Nov. 30 in the City of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. And he won't stop there.
“I’m planning on being a part of the team for the rest of my life, until I can’t play anymore. I have another 25 to 30 years ahead of me… as long as my body can keep up with it,” he concludes.
If you haven't seen it yet, check out this incredible goal Calabria scored during a high school varsity game that made him a YouTube sensation.