TOCCOA, Ga. - Eight-year-old Gabe Sanders is a force on the playground. Rachel and Clint Sanders adopted Gabe in 2014 from an orphanage in China where he didn’t play outside much. That changed quickly when they got back home to Toccoa where the Sanders family spends a lot of time together outdoors.
"It just sort of became a part of something we did as a family, and it didn't take long,” said Rachel Sanders.
Now Gabe is one of those kids – and maybe you’ve met someone his age that’s similar – who can’t find enough new spots to explore, places to climb. He’s all over the place, despite being born with no legs.
"He can play and do all the things the other children can do,” said Rachel Sanders. “We've not made a single adaptation to our home, they haven't had to make any adaptations at school whatsoever, which is just really awesome, that's he's able to be Gabe.”
His playground prowess is impressive, but where Gabe really gets jaws dropping is in obstacle course races. You may have seen them, Tough Mudder is a popular company, the Sanders family goes for the BattleFrog races, where competitors climb over walls, crawl along the ground and more. Gabe has done three, recently completing his first mile-long course without any assistance.
“My first one I like is when we jump in the big puddle of mud,” said Gabe. “That was fun."
Gabe’s father Clint had long done the races with his other kids. He encouraged Gabe to tag along.
"[At first I was] nervous,” said Gabe. “Because like I thought every single people was going to stare at me."
People sometimes do stare, but because they’re impressed. Gabe admits sometimes people will come up and tell him how inspired they are – his dad Clint says Gabe’s shy about it, but suspects he enjoys the attention.
"We're pretty proud of him,” said Clint Sanders who is a pharmacist in Toccoa. “He's a fearless little boy and he can do most anything."
That includes some daunting obstacles. One recent race had a segment with a sandbag for athletes to drag or carry. Clint guesses it was about half Gabe’s body weight. What did he do?
“I dragged it with my teeth!” said Gabe, adding it didn’t hurt.
Gabe’s parents hope people will see his story and consider adopting a special needs child of their own. Clint says his wife Rachel wanted to adopt for a while, but he wasn’t onboard until seeing Gabe’s picture online.
"Overnight I went from not really wanting do it to picking out a name and saying, 'I could be that boy's daddy,” said Clint. "I just want to encourage people, it's not nearly as scary as it seems."
Gabe says his next big challenge is water skiing, and he’s proud of himself knowing people see what he’s able to do and are inspired. Clint and Rachel picked the name “Gabriel” because it means “God’s able bodied man.” On obstacle courses and in life, Gabe is proving his name right.