32-year-old Georgia native Justin Pirkle is a thrill seeker. From shark diving to paddle boarding, and fishing to running competitive races, Justin gets his dopamine fix from adventures that not all would be comfortable doing. These are activities that require a high level of endurance and stamina, as well as a healthy body. Something that may come as a surprise to some after reading about what Justin does for fun is that he is limb different. Did that catch you off guard? Read on to learn how Justin is defying the odds and racing towards letting the world know that a limb difference doesn’t hold him back from participating in the things he enjoys.
Justin is what’s known as a congenital amputee, meaning he was born missing a limb. Specifically, Justin is missing his right arm just below his elbow. Upon seeing Justin swim openly with bull sharks, something Justin has no shame in admitting is an amazing feeling, one may deduce that Justin was involved in a shark attack. However, Justin has shared that he is just a normal guy with a rare condition, one that hasn’t stopped him from his adventures.
“My grandma was not happy when she found out I swam with sharks while also missing my arm,” he said. “She would say: do you want to lose your other one?!” Justin said in a joking manner. Importantly, it’s conversations like this that remind Justin that nothing should hold someone back from the things they enjoy or want to try. It wasn’t always this way for Justin, though.
Justin shared that from a young age, his limb difference was the cause of low confidence in his abilities and body image, causing him to be an introverted boy who always wore a long sleeve to hide his physical imperfection. All too often, this is the routine feeling and state of mind for young amputees.
“I’d wear a long sleeve basically all year long, even in the summer because I didn’t want people to stare at me.” Justin shared. It wasn’t until a girlfriend at the time challenged Justin to wear short sleeves at a mall did Justin break free of his self-consciousness. “It was a big dose of exposure therapy that I needed, because I realized that nobody was really paying much attention to me anyway.” Justin explained.
Justin found some additional relief in the use of prosthetic devices, though the ones he used offered him limited mobility and use to make two-handed tasks adaptive. Through a hook device, Justin was able to pinch grip objects, though there is extremely limited mobility that comes with a device with only one grip option.
Justin was then introduced to a passive prosthesis option, one that at least allowed him to swim while wearing it. The arm, which was skin toned, offered no practical use and had no actual ability to move or operate. The socket Justin wore with this arm had no padding or ventilation, so Justin was constantly dealing with sores and rashes. Over time, the arm became extremely beat up and required tape and fabric to be held together, while the fingers developed breaks and holes at the tips.
Justin turned to competitive and leisure running to stay active and fit. He shared that running has become a way for him to just detach and forget about the things we find stress-inducing in life. “Fitness, running in particular, has become my passion,” Justin said. “It’s something I started doing to manage my day-to-day stress.” he said. Having run several races including the Sweet Treat 5K, Glow for Greta, the Book Mobile 5K, Dirty Spokes 4x4x48, just to name some, Justin has a hobby to truly be proud of, sharing he’s never finished outside of the top 20 save 1 or 2. “My average 5K time is 22:40, and I have a bunch of first place medals for my age group.” Justin said.
Something Justin noticed while furthering his running passion was how sometimes he felt off balance due to his limb difference. Encouraged to find a new device, Justin began the search for a new prosthesis better suited for him. Enter the help of social media, where Justin followed several limb different influencers. One influencer that Justin followed was Paul de Gelder, who lost two limbs in a shark attack. Upon seeing a bionic prosthesis on Paul’s Instagram account, Justin was motivated to search for his own bionic prosthesis. “I typed bionic arm into Google and the first thing I saw was Open Bionics.” Justin explained. Upon seeing the Open Bionics Hero Arm, Justin knew he had found the prosthesis for him, calling it a no-brainer. “That’s it, that’s the one I want.” he said.
Justin signed up his interest in the Hero Arm and checked his email one day. “I randomly happened to check my email, which I don’t do often,” Justin explained. “When I saw I had a response from Open Bionics I was so excited.” he said. From there, Justin traveled to the Open Bionics clinic in Denver, Colorado to begin his fitting process for the Hero Arm with Elise Griset, certified prosthetist.
Since receiving his Hero Arm and brand new ‘Sentinel’ covers, Justin has found new gratification in prosthetics and his limb difference, saying that the light-weight Hero Arm has helped him stay balanced while running, even getting many compliments during competitions. “It’s got a real tech-y look, and it has helped me do a lot of things that others may take for granted like just opening a bottle of water.” Justin said. Before his Hero Arm, Justin shared he’s had to place water bottles into his armpit to open, often spilling the water in the process. The Hero Arm has changed that for him. “It’s a big deal when you haven’t been able to do it,” he explained. “Open Bionics was a no-brainer.” Justin concluded.
Having shed his introverted attitude toward his limb difference and finding the perfect prosthesis to make his life more adaptive, it’s safe to say that Justin will be zooming over the finish line and diving with sharks for many years to come, and Open Bionics will be right there cheering him on. Interested in a Hero Arm? Register your interest today by going to https://openbionics.com/get-a-hero-arm/.