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Carter: Shriners Children's Patient Turned Professional Athlete

Now, this Team USA athlete and adaptive golfer is working to inspire the next generation of adaptive athletes.

Carter is an athlete down to his very core.

If you asked little Carter what he what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would have said an Olympian. Now a professional athlete, he’s proven he has the athletic ability to do whatever he puts his mind to – even when missing a limb.

Carter was born with a rare and complex condition called proximal femoral focal deficiency. An uncommon birth defect of the right femur, it resulted in a leg length discrepancy. In his case, Carter’s right leg was much shorter than the left.

Only two hours from their hometown of Columbia, Missouri, his parents turned to Shriners Children’s St. Louis for Carter’s orthopedic care. They worked closely with the medical team led by Perry Schoenecker, M.D., to develop a treatment plan.

For the first few years of Carter’s life, he wore a brace to make up the height difference. However, the disparity grew too extensive. When he was 4 years old, Carter’s parents were faced with a difficult decision – to lengthen the limb, or amputate his foot and add a prosthetic.

After speaking with another Shriners Children's patient thriving post-amputation, his family felt at ease. Dr. Schoenecker performed the amputation, and Carter continued to follow up with the orthotic and prosthetic department (POPS) for years to come.

Even with a prosthetic, Carter continued to play competitive, able-bodied sports. From baseball to basketball, Carter did it all, and he did it well. In fact, he was the best athlete at his local high school.

It wasn’t until he turned 16 that his peers slowly began to outrun him, and he realized his amputation may be slowing him down.

With dreams of becoming a Division 1 athlete and Olympian, Carter felt discouraged. He took a break from competitive sports and began attending the local community college when he was 18. He often borrowed his roommate’s University of Missouri student identification to play basketball at their recreation center.

One day, he was approached by the head coach of the Mizzou men’s wheelchair basketball team. Carter’s prosthetic leg caught his eye. He asked if Carter had interest in wheelchair basketball – something he had never even considered.

Missing a foot, Carter never thought of himself as “disabled.” However, adapting the sport with a wheelchair helped level the playing field. Days later, he received life-changing news: He would be attending the University of Missouri on a full-ride scholarship to play wheelchair basketball.

The sport was the same, but getting used to the sport chair was no easy feat. For once, Carter was the worst on the team. Dedicating all of his time and energy to becoming an elite athlete, eventually he excelled.

Two short years later, Carter had mastered the art of the sport wheelchair, securing a spot on the Team USA wheelchair basketball team. His dream became reality.

I needed adaptive sports to become the professional that I am.
Carter, former Shriners Children's St. Louis patient

While on the team, he was given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel the world, visiting South Korea, Colombia, Turkey and more. He even helped Team USA bring home the gold in Bogotá.

Playing simultaneously at Mizzou for five years, and Team USA for three years, he had the jerseys and fame. Nevertheless, amid all of the hustle and bustle, Carter’s flame for the sport slowly died out. He needed a break. He took a six-year hiatus from sports and was ready to call it quits, until an opportunity arose to play in a golf scramble.

His family needed a fourth player for their team, and Carter invited his friend Laura, a former college golf athlete. Their future dates often surrounded the game of golf.

The two married and had two children. By all typical standards, Carter began to live a “normal” life. He and his wife enjoyed much of their time on the golf course, competing against one another for fun.

When Carter saw the U.S. Adaptive Open on television, a new adaptive sport captured his heart. He finally saw other incredible athletes that looked like him. Carter’s flame was back, and bigger than ever. This time, he fell for a different adaptive sport. He began to take golf more seriously, and Laura started to caddie, making it a family affair.

For the past two years, he's set his sights on a new goal – the U.S. Adaptive Open. Now, he is qualifying for major adaptive golf tournaments, proving he can truly do anything he puts his mind to.

“Name an adaptive sport, it’s perfect because it’s given this person that would have been a high-level athlete, a chance to compete against other high-level athletes, and it be an equal playing field,” Carter explained.

“I think it's great that he found a way to keep his love of sports alive and continues to evolve and adapt in sports,” said POPS manager Darren Rottmann, BOCP, CPOA, who served Carter when he was a patient.

Though amputation took hard work and perseverance, he speaks fondly of his time at Shriners Children's, often sharing our mission with others. “It was the friendliest place. You are special to everybody there,” Carter said.

“You know how many traumatizing moments I had at that hospital, and for me to look back with glowing, happy memories – that is only because the teams that were there, and are still there today,” Carter said.

Now, Carter has made it his mission to inspire the next generation of adaptive athletes.

Inspiring Other Amputees

Carter demonstrates that professional sports are still within the realm of possibility.

Young Carter wearing prosthetic leg

Little Carter stands on his front porch giving a big thumbs up! He proudly wears his leg brace utilized to make up for his limb length discrepancy.

young Carter hugs father

Carter gives his dad a big squeeze on amputation day. The two are standing in his patient room at the St. Louis facility.

Carter with clown

Carter is all smiles, visiting with a clown post-surgery at Shriners Children's St. Louis.

Carter in wheelchair wearing body cast

Wearing a body cast, Carter is smiling larger by the day, using a wheelchair outside post-amputation.

Carter with prosthetist

Carter receives his first prosthetic leg in the prosthetics and orthotics department. He's sitting with his prosthetist, Marvin.

Carter on the basketball court

Carter proudly wears his University of Missouri jersey during a game of wheelchair basketball.

Carter shooting basketball

Carter prepares to shoot a basket for Team USA.

Carter playing golf

He swings the golf club during a competitive game of adaptive golf.

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