Nico Calabria is a first-class football player, capable of scoring from a long distance and running off to celebrate after scoring with an amazing bicycle kick. But Calabria's ability is even more remarkable, knowing that the amateur footballer has just one leg and plays against able-bodied opponents.
The 19-year-old from Massachusetts was born without his right leg, but never let his disability let him miss out in life. A keen soccer player and wrestler from an early age, Calabria even managed to climb Mount Kilimanjaro at age 13, the first person to ever summit Africa's highest peak on crutches.
Now Calabria is starring in Powerade's new "There's Power in Every Game" advertising campaign, also featuring Spain's Andres Iniesta, the star who netted the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final.
Metro spoke to Calabria, who will be playing for Team USA in the Amputee Football World Cup in Mexico later this year.
What are your thoughts on discrimination towards people with disabilities?
I think in the U.S. and other countries there is a change in the perception of disability. While in the past it was considered to be something embarrassing, now it's something can actually help you in growing up. I believe the U.S. and other developed countries are doing a great job to end discrimination towards disabled people.
Have you ever felt rejected by society in your life?
No, I have never felt rejection. Sometimes you feel you have bad luck, but not once I have felt rejected.
How do you hone your abilities in soccer?
I decided to focus on my strengths. Speed and agility will never be my my strong points in football, so I focused on controlling my touch, passing, vision and creativity. This was important because it's in these areas where I can stand out. But everything changes when I start to play with other players of disability. Now speed is my strength.
You're representing the U.S. at the Amputee Football World Cup in Mexico later this year. What do you expect from the tournament?
I expect we will move beyond the group stages. But as for preparation, practice together has been complicated as the team is dispersed across America. I think in a couple of years our players will develop and have a realistic chance to win everything.
You play with able-bodied players on your high school soccer team. What did people tell you when they saw you for the first time?
In general, they think it's nice that my coach “allows me” to play in the team. Some people think he helps by giving me more space and making things easy for me. All that changes when they pass me the ball. Then they reconsidered their point of view.
What are your dreams?
My life plans are to become a motivational speaker and a teacher. I also hope to have time to train as much in football and wrestling.
Who are your favorite players that will be in the World Cup?
I admire some skills in several players. I think Iniesta has a very creative view of the field. Others are Messi, Cristiano and Neymar.
Apart from football, what are your hobbies?
I love wrestling. Having a leg in the sport is both an advantage and disadvantage. I’m lighter and in that way I can fight in a smallest weight category without having the top of my body heavier than anyone else. I also like to hang out with my friends, listen to music, and go to gigs.
If you could describe your life philosophy in a few words, what would you say?
Everyone has the power to challenge the expectations.