Inside the limb-different way of life, having a difference from birth means adaptation can come naturally as your mind grows and habits come organically. As fascinating as the stories are in the community, many of the most gripping life tales come from those who started life without a disability.
Originating from Munster, Indiana, USA, Keith Miner was a regular confident, athletic teenager enjoying his summer, working away at a manual job before beginning his first year of college. On May 8th, 2000, everything physical and mental that Keith had known was about to change.
“It was my parents’ anniversary and my mother’s birthday the next day, so not great timing,” Keith began. “The job involved clearing trees away from power lines, rideaways and using a lot of machinery. I had grown up around it as my dad worked for the same company and was actually my supervisor for that particular area.
“I was taking taking tree branches that had been cut down and was feeding them through the industrial wood chipper when, all of a sudden, the truck and chipper moved. I had just put some branches in and the large rollers that take it to the blades had just locked down on the branches.
“Well, when the truck moved, the chipper moved with it because it's hitched to the truck. This caused me to be yanked forward. Normally, I would probably have been able to keep my balance, but unfortunately we were working on a very steep decline and it was like running down a steep hill. As I was not expecting it I fell forward and right into the chute of the chipper. I felt the rollers hit my left hand and I ripped it away, but wasn't fast enough to pull my right one away.
“The chipper pulled me into the blades and chipped my right hand, wrist and part of my forearm but I think I was lucky in all honesty,” Miner vividly recalled. “When the rollers got to my elbow I turned my arm so it would stop chipping it. The rollers threw me around like a rag doll and had me all the way to my shoulder and neck area, ripping my hard hat and safety glasses off me. Luckily a co-worker hit the reverse lever on the outside of the chipper and I came out alive.
“I was missing some things but alive, and from there on I applied pressure with my left hand over the wound and walked to the top of the hill and had my foreman rush me to the hospital. I was air lifted to Pittsburgh from the local hospital and went through two surgeries and was home in four days.”
Following the horrific of loss of his favoured arm, Keith found himself in dire straits. It’s one thing to adapt from birth and continue to follow the adaptive path throughout your life, but to go seventeen years and have your life changed in front of your very eyes is a struggle that’s hard to contemplate.
Finding motivation and inspiration to try to move forward was non-existent, especially in an environment where Keith hadn’t ever met nor seen someone with a missing limb. It took a long time for Miner to stand back up again, beginning with the very basics.
“I was a wreck,” Keith confessed. “I was confused, angry, depressed and didn't know what to do next or if I was strong enough to even move forward. I was right handed and all of a sudden I was left handed. I didn't really know how to do daily things left handed. So I got over myself and started using what I did have; my work ethic. I started writing my ABC's so I could learn to write again and started trying to tie my shoes, button my shirts and after every milestone I just kept challenging myself with ‘what else can I do or learn mentality?’
“It's been seventeen-plus years and I still reach for things right handed, but now I laugh and think ‘you do it better as a lefty anyhow.’ It took a long time to get there though, but thank God I am there!”
Seventeen years on from the incident, Keith has successfully adapted to most of the everyday tasks that come before him, however he still finds himself becoming – for lack of a better word – stumped with some tasks, therefore feeling he’ll never be fully adapted. Due to his hardships, pain and commitment to soldier through, a challenge is something Keith relishes daily.
“As a matter of fact I’ve been working on a project recently that’s nearly had me ready to say I need someone with two hands to do this,” mentioned Keith. “But after some deep breathes and maybe a few motivating words, I got through it.
“It takes a little longer to do some things, but the biggest test of it all is will you break mentally. I did after my accident with my "poor me" garbage, but now I just know how great I will feel when I reach this milestone and I just Press On! Not sure if I can say I am comfortable with it but I believe that to overcome anything in life you have to learn to be comfortable in the uncomfortable. That helps me a lot.”
One of the main trials and tribulations of growing up is how people around you treat you. With a limb-difference to the magnitude of Keith’s causing such a drastic change to his livelihood, the people surrounding him adjusted dramatically.
“It was rough,” Keith expressed. “You learn that people can be pretty cruel and what's sad is it was mainly adults. Grown human beings trying to add to my life's tough time. I became overwhelmed by it and it was hard to look in the mirror because it was so different. The nicknames people came up with only cemented it more in my mind. I wasn't Keith Miner anymore. I felt like I lost more than just my hand and arm. It took me almost two and a half years to finally start to get out of my own head and start on the journey I am still on and creating the Keith Miner I am supposed to be.
“The best thing in the journey is you learn who your real friends are and who are the pretenders. Many of my family and friends carried me through my tough time and now I just add to that list by making sure I surround myself with people who are positive and passionate about life. Being surrounded by the right people makes it a whole lot easier when life knocks you on your ass.
Eight years into his adjustment, physical activity put a large margin of strain on the body of Keith. Through tendon, disc and ligament damage up to his arm, hitting the weights or any other form of intense workout wasn’t exactly what the doctor would have ordered, or so he had believed.
That was until 2008. Following mixed martial arts for a number of years, Keith and his friends would get together to spectate the fights. The thought of ever partaking in even an element of such a taxing sport was never in his mind.
One day, Keith met a BJJ practitioner, who kept telling him to try it. Soon after the persuasion, Keith finally sat in on a class, laughing, whilst telling his wife ‘hell no,’ thinking it would hurt him too badly.
Unbeknownst to Keith, his BJJ acquaintance wasn’t through with asking. Keith then signed his son up in hope to get it off his back, but after giving it more consideration, watching his son and again listening to the guys in the class, a sense of curiosity sparked over Miner, causing him to sign up.
“On April 2nd, 2008 at 27-years-old I signed up and took part in my first class,” Keith revealed. “Within a month I was addicted and had found something that filled a hole in me. It became a new milestone. One that has given me more than I could have ever imagined. It brought my work ethic out in levels that I had never had to push through and in that, I learned how to truly adapt.
“BJJ and MMA were very hard and many guys tried to break me because they didn't believe there was a place for me in this sport with my ‘disability.’ I wanted to quit many times because it hurt. I had rough nights because guys would distance themselves from me at times. However, my wife kept me going and one by one I earned respect and found a way to figure it out. Having lots of luck and grit goes a long way.”
Life has a way of teaching us lessons. Funnily enough, prior to his limb loss, Keith feels he was a cocky kid, walking around like the boss. It wasn’t until his limb-difference that he feels he learned the truth of grit, ethic and the grind of life. In his view, life with a difference and provided the opportunity to strive for many more accolades.
“It wasn’t until post limb-difference that I started chasing things,” Keith told. “I was humbled and had to earn everything the hard way. So these accolades mean something to me. I am a Black Belt in BJJ with many wins at every belt level and at many tournaments. My black belt is something I am proud of and even said no to multiple times, because I didn't want to check that box as a milestone completed. I finally received it and it has only continued my light my fire.
“I was the first ever amputee professional MMA fighter. No one would give me an amateur shot because of my arm, so me liking challenges I went straight into the professional ranks. I lost that first fight and I can give you a few excuses why, but in all honesty I couldn't even believe I had come that far. I still don't at times.
“I finished my MMA career with five wins and five losses having fought for Bellator,” Keith added. “I wasn't a guy to take easy fights. My career was full of short-notice fights versus tough opponents. I wanted to find out what I was made of. Sometimes it obviously didn't go my way, but I wasn't worried about a record. I was worried about proving to myself and those closest to me that anything was possible. I am glad I didn't take easy matchups or look for lesser opponents because I would have always wondered how good I really was.”
With his competitive MMA career behind him, Keith aims to help the youth prosper through his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym as well as teaching his three fast growing kids the lessons of life through his own unique trials and tribulations.
“MMA is done. Besides training people and helping people prepare for fights. In BJJ, I have a gym where I train people and compete under when entering grappling competitions. As long as my body holds up I will be a competitor. In other sports, I coach a lot for my kids and even compete in some. So I guess just keep improving and competing and helping others do the same.”
“I want to teach the youth to live by what I preach and live by example. I want them to know the only limits they have are the ones they put on themselves. Go out and show others that anything is possible. Get out there and find out what you are made of by challenging yourselves and pressing on.”
You can follow Keith on Twitter at @KeithMinerMMA.