OLYMPIA – Tyler Sharp does not shy away from the fact he was born without a left hand and the majority of a forearm.
Not only does he openly talk about the topic, he will offer to show you what he calls “stubby” – where his left arm ends.
At times, the Capital High School junior and first-year swimmer even resorts to his keen wit when curious classmates ask him about it. He responds by telling stories about being attacked by a shark while swimming in the warm waters of Hawaii, or battling it out with a grizzly bear in the forest.
At 16, Sharp does not see what he is missing as a disability. It is all he’s ever known.
“I like how I am,” he said. “I don’t want to change.”
Consequences surrounding high-blood pressure and diabetes forced Tawni Sharp into an early delivery with her youngest son. Tyler Sharp was delivered six weeks premature.
When he was born, doctors, as well as his parents, were stunned to discover the newborn did not have a full left arm. Nothing in earlier ultrasounds detected as much. It was later determined a blood clot in the arm had severely stunted its growth past the elbow.
“We were always very upfront,” Tawni Sharp said, “that’s how God made him.”
The family was immediately introduced to prosthetics. Tyler has received multiple prosthetic arms from Seattle Children’s Hospital to match his body’s growth.
But his parents have left it up to him to decide what allows him to live the way he wants.
Tyler Sharp prefers to do most activities without assistance.
“I can do everything that everyone else can do,” Tyler Sharp said.
He played Little League baseball and youth basketball. As he got older, he got into soccer, four-wheeling, skiing, snowboarding and even wakeboarding – a perfect activity for the family’s Summit Lake home.
“We haven’t stopped him,” Tawni Sharp said.
His adventurous spirit has carried over to high school. After being nudged by friends, Tyler Sharp decided to turn out for the Cougars’ boys swimming team this winter. The events he chose were the sprints – the 50- and 100-yard freestyle races.
In those events, a swimmer uses his legs to gain the most momentum, but the arms also help a swimmer pull through the water. Because of the length of his left arm, Tyler Sharp needs to complete more arm strokes with a faster motion to keep pace.
His best time is 30.18 seconds – some four seconds short of qualifying for the postseason.
“I like the challenge,” he said. “It’s learning something new and it’s really fun. And it’s nice and short.”
Not surprisingly, he has also tried other events. In a Narrows 3A League dual meet against Stadium on Dec. 1, Capital was short a swimmer in the 500 freestyle. Sharp approached Cougars coach Dean Sawhill and volunteered for the race. He clocked in at 9:00.89.
“I was wondering if he could do anything of a longer distance,” Sawhill said. “He’s made some constant progress.”
His improvement has been so pronounced, Sharp recently began practicing in the middle lanes – the lanes reserved for the fastest swimmers – at The Evergreen State College pool. His teammates have been impressed and inspired.
“If you couldn’t see him, you wouldn’t see he has one arm,” teammate Jack Swanson said. “He pushes through.”
Also a soccer player, and a tuba and trumpet player in the school’s marching band, Sharp is pondering a tryout for the Capital football team next fall as a placekicker.
Of all his pursuits, he says the most satisfying is speaking to others who, like him, are missing a limb.
Three years ago, Sharp received an invitation to play in the annual Western Amputee Open – a golf tournament. And every year since, he has been invited back to play.
In August, he won his age division with a two-day total of 201 strokes. He said he will continue to play the tournament because he likes connecting with others who share his challenges.
“I’ve learned that these guys have made it through life just like I have,” Sharp said.