Hoover resident Bob Lujano signs copies of his book No Arms, No Legs, No Problem. Photo by David Knox.
As you hand the book to the woman at the checkout at Barnes & Noble, a broad smile splits her face.
“I was so excited when he came in this morning to tell him he’s our No. 1 author this week!” she says.
Can you judge a book by its cover? If the book is No Arms, No Legs, No Problem, the answer is the title is ironically apt. If we’re speaking metaphorically about Bob Lujano, the subject and co-author of the book, the answer is no.
At the book signing, Lujano is surrounded by people waiting for an autographed copy and to have a photograph made with him. It’s clear, as he inscribes books with a pen in the crook of his right stub, they are drawn to his charisma and his sheer inspiration. His upbeat attitude and apparent joy of life belies that he is in a wheelchair, with truly no arms and no legs.
And he insists, it’s no problem. No kidding?
“No, I’m not,” Lujano said.
That’s not to say it hasn’t been a challenge. He suffered belt-whippings from his father. His mother abandoned him and his sister when he was 5. His father sent him to live with his grandparents, and there his grandfather was physically abusive. Then, at the age of 9, he contracted a rare form of meningitis, and in order to save his life, his limbs were amputated.
That would be enough for many people to say: Enough, I’m checking out.
If Bob Lujano had decided to pack it in, or curl into a ball, then he would not have inspired others with his story. He would not have earned an undergraduate degree from Texas-Arlington or a masters in sport management from the University of Tennessee. He would not have won a bronze medal in the 2004 Paralympic Games in wheelchair rugby. He would not have been featured in the Academy Award-nominated documentary about wheelchair rugby, Murderball. He would not been a sought-after motivational speaker. He would not be in his current role at Lakeshore Foundation in Homewood, where he is information specialist through the National Center of Health Promotions Physical Activity and Disability.
He would not be the national advocate he is for athletes with disabilities.
Part of the reason he wrote the book, with co-author Tara Schiro, was to “shatter stereotypes and myths,” he said. The Hoover resident lives in his own home, drives and does daily living like anyone else without assistance.
“God’s given me whatever ability I have, and the ability I have is to be as independent as I can be,” Lujano said. “That’s why I can live on my own and have my own house and do my own laundry and cook my own food and sweep the floor and scrub the toilet and all those fun things you have to do.”
“I feel that I’m what an independent person in Birmingham is supposed to be doing. I have my own job. I’m involved in my community, in my church, with my sports team … it’s about being as active as you can and being a part of your community.”
Another part of the reason he wrote the book was to thank God for what he’d been through. And that is a message that is certainly particular to Lujano’s journey but can be adapted to anyone’s life.
“More than anything, it’s to make people realize that no matter what you go through – and some people will hear my story and say, ‘You really got a bad deal from age 5 to 10’ – at the end of the day, I’m still thankful for the struggles, the hard times, because they shape who you are and who you’re going to be.”
Lujano adds, “Without my faith in God and support of family and friends, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
Another reason he wrote the book was simply to chronicle what he’d been through for those family and friends. Reading what his family members said was a revelation to him, as he was young, in a coma for a time, and just not aware of what all was going on around him when he fell ill.
“One of the things that struck me as I read the book was that I didn’t know what my family was going through when the door closed. They would put on the smiles -- ‘We’re behind you, we love you, what do you need’ -- and then as soon as they went out the door they would all fall apart. And I never saw that, never saw my dad break down. Or my sister. As soon as they got to the door they were all smiles.”
“Really a stark revelation once I read it.”
He had been an athlete before he lost his limbs – he wanted to be the next Pete Rose – but when he was in grade school, the PE teacher put him in a corner playing checkers with others with disabilities.
“One day the guy I was playing checkers with, we just put the checkers away and grabbed a football and started throwing the football back and forth, and then we got this other guy in and said you run a route and this guy can rush the passer and pretty soon we had 7-on-7 touch football going on.”
“That drew the confidence from the teachers to say, ‘OK let’s get them out here.’ At the end of the day I just wanted to be involved with my peers and found a way to make that happen.”
At Texas-Arlington he played some wheelchair basketball, but it wasn’t until after he graduated from Tennessee and worked at the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta that he discovered quad rugby.
That eventually led to five U.S. Quad Rugby National Championships with the Lakeshore Demolition and three medals playing for Team USA – a gold in the 1999 Wheelchair Games, silver in the World Championships and a bronze in the 2004 Paralympics.
The book pulls no punches – it’s honest and insightful. It varies between Bob’s voice, Tara Schiro’s voice, which could easily be ours, but you’ll have to buy the book to see what I mean – and a narrator.
“People should read my book,” Lujano said, “because it’s a situation that no matter how difficult life might be, it’s those rough areas that define and shape who we are, who were going to be, where were going to go. Once we decide ‘my back’s against the wall but you know what, I’m not going down.’ If you can have that attitude, that mindset, God wants to provide for you … he’s there just as much for me as anyone else because he loves you that much. … the beauty of it is that it’s through the struggle that you define who you are and what you will become and what your purpose is.”
He’s a man of strong faith, which was developed in his childhood. From the book:
I remember vividly that conversation with Jesus, even though I was comatose at the time. He stood at the end of my bed and gave me a choice.
“Do you want to stay and live or would you rather come home with me?”
“I want to live. I have things to do,” I told him.
There was no doubt in my mind, even though it would have been easy to die that day …
Dying in surgery or asleep in the ICU would have been the perfect way to go. Just slip into paradise away from all the tragedy I had experienced in my nine years on earth and not have to deal with a battered body the rest of my life. But somewhere in the comatose state, I do remember making it clear that I wanted to live.
The book is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble online.