One-Legged Soccer Star Inspires

One-Legged Soccer Star Inspires

Nico Calabria was born with no right hip or leg. Growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana and Concord, Massacusettes, Calabria says it took years to realize that the active lifestyle he enjoyed as a kid was anything out of the ordinary. “I’ve always been part of a family that’s athletic, and had an older brother who was very athletic, so I was just trying fit it and didn’t think I was doing anything abnormal,” Nico reveals. “But over the years I just kind of continually surprised myself with the level I was able to compete at.”

nico on the cover of scholastic choices magazine

Despite the game centering around the use of the lower limbs, Nico gravitated to soccer at an early age. He had to overcome many challenges, but he continued to improve. In middle school, Calabria disclosed he never expected to make his high school’s freshman soccer team. But he did and ultimately landed a spot on his High-School Varsity team, as a freshman. Captured on video, Nico scored a brilliant, overhead-volley goal off a corner kick that now has over 1.7 million views on YouTube (see below).

The viral video caught the attention of many companies looking for an moving story. Powerade pitched a short video that is one part documentary and one part advertisement and got the nod. The company utilized a treasure trove of footage that Nico’s parents captured throughout the years showcasing their son, not only participating, but excelling at a number of sports. After the festival, the two-minute version, which provides an amazing window into Calabria’s story, will become part of a global Powerade ad campaign centered around the World Cup.

Calabria says that ever since he started playing soccer at age 5, he’s been dreaming of playing in the World Cup—as an able-bodied player, of course. He says he was naive then. But it’s not really naiveté that’s fueled Calabria. He’s always had a realistic view of life, something his family’s made sure of when he was growing up. His brother picked on him the same way any older brother would. His parents didn’t shield him or allow him to make excuses. “My parents always instilled in an attitude of: “‘Hey, tough luck, man. You were born with one leg. Now make the best of it.’

nico calabria juggling

Calabria’s mother, Jeanine, says that from the start, the family made sure to focus on what he did have rather than what he didn’t. Instead of saying he had one leg, they’d say he had a left leg. With his desire to “just play” for the love of it, sometimes he would be “judged for having one leg,” which would yield some discouraging moments. Looking for some sympathy, he would go to his parents. His mother would coddle him to a degree, but his father refused. “We get it, it’s a bummer, but there’s legitimately zero you can do about it,” Nico’s father Carl remembers. “So what are you going to do now?”
“I think that [ability to look beyond your handicap] isn’t specific to having a disability,” Nico says. “It can apply to everything.”


Nico is now a member of the USA’s National Amputee Soccer Team and will represent the USA at the Amputee Football World Cup, which takes place in Mexico next November. When he begins college this fall, he plans to ask the coach of the Colorado College Men’s Soccer Team if he can practice with them as a tune up. Who knows? He may get a roster spot!

“I’m just honored to be a part of this and help tell my story,” Nico says. “I guess my advice to people would be that it doesn’t really matter what your physical condition is, or what country you’re from, or what your gender is — soccer can unite everyone across almost any barrier.”

Calabria also serves as a field tester for SideSix, a company that creates high-performance sports crutches. He said he’s destroyed each model in every conceivable way, which has spurred the company to make their products “Nico-proof.” Calabria graduated from high school in 2013 and recently completed an internship with SideSix.

And that’s the message behind Powerade’s Powering Through campaign, which features moments of Calabria on the soccer field and in the gym doing handstands and pullups. It’s the same message Calabria hopes to continue sharing as he pursues his dream of teaching, coaching soccer, and becoming a motivational speaker.

Nico certainly has come a long way. So how does he feel about representing his country at the Amputee World Cup? “It’s surreal,” he exclaims. “I don’t know how to describe it, really. I never expected to be in this situation. It’s just an honor.”

The honor is all ours! Go Nico!!