“Impossible is an opinion, not a fact,” claims Cameron Clapp, a triple amputee who surfs, skis, runs marathons and mentors hundreds of people each year. Clapp, who recently spoke to Serra Padres, received a standing ovation at the end of his talk.
On September 15, 2001, four days after the 9/11 tragedy, Clapp’s life changed forever. While drinking with his friends beside train tracks near Pismo Beach, he was hit by a train. Clapp lost one arm and both legs above the knee.
“Remarkably, my head and body escaped the accident with hardly a scratch; for that I am very grateful,” Clapp noted. “What happened to me was a direct result of alcohol.”
When Clapp woke up in the hospital, he learned that his legs and right arm had been amputated.
“Thankfully, I had a strong support system,” Clapp remembered. “My parents, family and friends believed in me. I knew that I had to identify the challenges I had and take ownership. I developed a philosophy that it’s not what happens to you that matters the most – it’s what you do about it.”
Despite the fact that one doctor advised, “Buy a good wheelchair,” Clapp was certain that, somehow, he would walk again one day. Two years after his accident, Clapp learned to walk and became involved in sports for people with disabilities. Today, he runs, swims, surfs and golfs. He was interviewed as the "Remarkable Runner" by CNN Headline News. Each year, Clapp competes in running and swimming events at the annual Endeavor Games sponsored by Hanger.
In addition to mentoring others, Clapp has appeared on the My Name is Earl sitcom and has met celebrities including Robin Williams and Will Farrell. He uses his media presence to inspire other amputees – and to instill his belief that people with physical challenges can life exciting, productive, extraordinary lives.
“What is the purpose of life?” he asked. “I believe it is to find the truth. The truth will set you free. You know, good things come from tragic situations. I have met so many incredible people and have participated in athletic events that I didn't even know existed before my accident. It is very hard to go through life missing three limbs – very hard – but it gets a little easier every day. I would never give up; that's just not me."
Clapp endured another tragedy when his identical twin brother, Jessie, overdosed a few years ago.
“Whatever tragedies you go through, there’s always hope,” he noted. “Stay close to the people who care about you and uplift you. Don’t waste your life – make good decisions. Live life to the fullest. Be a peer mentor – being a teenager is hard. I hope to reach out to other so that they may prevent others from making a tragic mistake - like my brother and I did - and to motivate them to make decisions that empower them to live life to the fullest."
Clapp’s talk was sprinkled with surfer-style humor, serious vignettes and a positive message about living life to the fullest. He stressed that everyone has a purpose in life.
“He was so funny and inspirational,” said freshman Zach Smallman.
“Cameron is really relatable,” agreed junior Sloan Varunok. “He didn’t preach to us…he reached us and still remained true to himself.”