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July 2, 2005

Lessons on 'different traits'

Eastburn finds limitations are only in people's mind.


Tribune Staff Writer

Brett Eastburn lines up a shot with a pool cue that has a strap for his longer stub.


Barb and Vaughn Eastburn made sure their son, Brett, had a normal childhood.


To learn more

Brett Eastburn's Web site is contact him, call him at 877-559-5744 or write to him at 17897 Main St., Tyner, IN 46572. His e-mail address is [email protected].

Other stories in this series:
Making his way: One man's journey to thrive and enlighten

Last of seven parts

Kevin Klingerman's mouth flew open and his eyes dropped to his feet after he first caught sight of his new neighbor in Tyner four years ago.

"I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, what happened to him?' " Kevin says of Brett Eastburn.

And that's when Brett drove his golf cart over to the property line.

"The one thing that kept running through my mind was, 'Don't stare, don't stare,' " Kevin says. "And Brett picked up on that right away."

Of course he did.

"I've seen that kind of reaction in people all my life," Brett says. "So I'm the one who usually has to break the ice."

So that's what he did on that day, too -- telling jokes on himself ... using his goofy voices that he has performed since grade school ... being a regular guy.

"After about five minutes, I didn't even notice that he didn't have arms or legs," Kevin adds. "Now, Brett is one of my best friends.

"And my two girls -- 11 and 8 -- just love Brett. Because of Brett, I'm sure that they will grow up being a lot more comfortable with people who are a little different than they are."

What could make Brett happier than that?

He loves educating others about people with ... with ... with ... (Brett doesn't like the words "handicaps" or "disabilities") with different traits.

That's one of Brett's goals in life as he gives motivational speeches through his and his wife Chrisa's No Boundaries business.

He also continues to demonstrate that limitations are often in people's minds.

"I have found that 90 percent of the time the solution to your problem can be found in the same room as you," he says.

Sometimes, you just have to look pretty hard.

Brett, now 33, likes to be self-effacing, but he also wants people to know that "I am proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. But I also want to continue to accomplish a lot more things."

Brett admits that he has been evaluated by a psychologist on his mental standing a couple of times.

"The last time when I was in my mid-20s, I told him that I eventually wanted to do things like start my own business, drive a motor home and get married," he says.

Brett smiled. The psychologist frowned.

"He told me I was setting too many unattainable goals."

Oh, yeah?

Brett has accomplished all of those goals and so many more that might have seemed impossible.

"But I don't master things by the 'one ... two ... three strikes and you're out' philosophy," he says. "I usually have to try things a lot more than three times before I get it right."

Even though he makes it look easy now, he says it took him hundreds of attempts before he learned how to open a pop can by using his mouth and stubs.

And can you imagine the work that went into learning how to shoot pool, to throw a football and to rely on silverware?

Brett just never gives up.

"I also like to surround myself with positive people," he says. "I feed off them and they feed off me."

Brett loves having Kevin Klingerman and his family on one side of Brett's home in Tyner and longtime friend Dave Brooke on the other.

"We actually met in second grade," Dave says. "I went over to his house and we spent the whole time laughing while Brett would smash Reese's Pieces candy with his one leg (or stub)."

They still laugh together. "Yeah, I've seen Brett a little down at times but not much. He can talk it out with me -- like I can with him. He usually is hilarious and a really good friend, too."

So what are Brett's goals now?

"Sometimes challenges just pop up in my brain," he says. "But I do know I want to continue to make our No Boundaries business a success."

He and Chrisa are already on the road in their motor home about 200 days of the year going to speaking engagements, "but that's what makes ends meet."

Like most young people, he would eventually like a bigger house for himself and Chrisa and Murray, his service dog.

"And while we're at it, how about a pool table and also a hot tub in the backyard, too," he adds.

He thinks some more.

"You know, I've always wanted to fly so learning to fly a plane would be nice."

He worries a little about his physical conditioning because he can't run or even walk in any traditional sense. "I probably could lose 10 or 15 pounds," he says. "I do a lot of what I call running in place -- swinging my stubs, especially when we are in the car and Chrisa is driving. Now, that will get some looks from other motorists.

"But the last thing I need since I rely so much on my torso is a pot belly."

Brett also had an emergency appendectomy over the winter and is still paying off the $13,000 bill. He has no health insurance, mostly because of the prohibitive cost it would take to cover a self-employed guy with no legs and no arms.

And he was denied Medicaid because he has been told he could borrow off his life insurance money.

"Isn't that something?" he says. "I'm penalized for being prepared for death."

Financial problems or not, he isn't poor in prestige.

In 2003, he was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans by the Junior Chamber of Commerce. Other winners over the years include John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Anne Bancroft, Gayle Sayers and Elvis Presley.

Do you want to bet that Brett could probably imitate the voices of all of them?

He gives his typical Brett Eastburn smile.

"I guess I've worked on different voices since I was in grade school," he says. "I think I drove my fifth-grade teacher, Tim Davis, who is a great guy, a little nuts. There was a time when I always thought I had to be funny."

Brett has toned that down a little -- very little.

"I would really like to take part in some stand-up comedy -- no pun intended."

Life is a laugh for Brett a lot of the time anyway. It also can be hard work.

"God made me this way for a purpose," he says. "I just hope I can live up to his plan."

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