There are those fortunate children who seem to have it all: loving and attentive parents, brains, athletic ability, musical acumen and the desire to put them all to good use.
Azad Aghdam is one of those kids with one notable exception: He was born with virtually no left hand. The fingers never developed. But while others might consider it a disability, the 10-year-old Modesto boy accepts it as a way of life and ignores it as an obstacle.
He’s an honors student in Sonoma Elementary School’s Gifted and Talented Education program. He loves math and geography, and was featured in The Modesto Bee in a story on school science achievement as a first-grader in 2010.
He holds a junior black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He pitches for his Little League team. And he creates joyous music on the piano and also on the baritone, a woodwind instrument.
Disability? What disability? Azad has an odd-shaped fist, that’s all.
He was born with a condition called symbrachydactyly that, according to the Boston Children’s Hopital’s Web page, occurs in 1 in 32,000 babies and isn’t hereditary. The fingers of usually just one hand are abnormally short and webbed, also affecting other parts of the hand (bones, muscles, ligaments and nerves).
So it forced Azad to become a right-hander. Big deal.
“He’s a natural lefty,” said his dad, Abbas Aghdam. “He’s left-footed. He does everything – soccer, kicking the soccer ball – everything left-handed. (The missing hand) hasn’t affected him.”
He simply does things the only way he knows how, by challenging himself to do more.
“Be proud of yourself and do it better,” he said.
Looking, listening and learning certainly helps.
“He’s done a lot in his life already,” said Aghdam, a pharmacist who came to the United States from Iran three months before the shah’s government collapsed and fled the country in January 1979. Abbas’ wife, Kathy, came from Iran in 2003.
Upon arriving in America, Abbas Aghdam fell in love with baseball – the kind of Western pleasure simply not allowed in his native land – and particularly the Giants.
“I went to Candlestick when it was so cold there would be only 1,200 people there, like the Modesto A’s games,” he said. “But those fans were real fans.”
His son developed a love for the game as well.
“When he was only 6, he noticed that the pattern of pitching changed from a right-hander to a left-hander,” Abbas Aghdam said.
Naturally, Azad’s pitching role model is former major leaguer Jim Abbott who, like Azad, was born without a hand yet refused to let it stop him.
Azad’s fifth-grade teacher at Sonoma, Barry Courtney, gave him two books about Abbott and his personal triumphs. Azad watches videos on YouTube showing Abbott in action, and he’s learned from them.
“He encourages me,” Azad said. “He plays with one hand, just like me.”
Abbott, a left-hander, pitched a decade in the majors and threw a no-hitter for the New York Yankees in 1993. He’d hold a right-hander’s glove on his right arm, slipping his left hand into it after finishing his pitch. Likewise, Azad does the same, albeit from the other side because he throws right-handed. He holds his glove – for a left-hander – against his body, using his non-throwing arm and then shoving his pitching hand into it as soon as he releases the pitch so he can catch a ball hit back toward the mound.
Sometimes, though, to heck with the glove. It’s simply a matter of reaction.
“He caught a come-backer with his bare hand (last week),” his dad said.
“And (Azad) bats with just the one arm,” said Modesto resident Erica Spitulski, whose son, Austin, is the team’s catcher. “The last team we played (Tuesday), the opposing coach twice just shook his head and said, ‘That kid has more heart than most people I know.’”
He’s adapted equally on the piano. Azad began studying the keyboard three years ago, and uses the left as well as his normal right hand. He spent the first two years in an accelerated course at Modesto Junior College. He recently received his certificate of merit from the Music Teachers’ Association of California, receiving excellent ratings on all three major disciplines (sight reading, technique and repertoire) during his recital at California State University, Stanislaus.
Consequently, his disability really isn’t one because he refuses to let it be one.
“You just do the best you can,” he said.
Through his first 10 years, Azad’s best has been pretty impressive.