Story highlights

Landon Weeks says he likes to joke with children about his appearance

He says he's grateful for the challenges posed by his physical problems

Weeks enjoys sharing his musical talent with others

Editor’s Note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. This week we meet Landon Weeks, 17, who was born with a congenital birth defect called phocomelia, which causes limbs to be so short that hands and feet are very close to the body. Weeks’ upper extremities are affected, but he hasn’t let it slow him down.

(CNN) —  

February 29 is a birthday that suits me well. It is a unique day, and I am an original young man.

I have never met anyone with upper extremities like me. I have seen others with variations of my condition, but my arms seem to be different from any others that I have seen.

My physical differences from other people are obvious. As long as I can remember, I have been unable to avoid the stares of strangers who see me for the first time.

I have had a great time joking with young children who are fascinated with my appearance. They can’t resist innocent questions about the location of my arms. I have made up stories about my arms being eaten by sharks or being abducted by aliens.

As a young child, I had difficulty crawling, and so I learned to move by scooting across the floor in a seated position. Once I started walking, my parents worried about me because every time I fell, I would hit my forehead on the ground. They quickly remedied this problem by finding a protective helmet for me to wear as I would run around. I remember wearing this helmet at every recess period throughout my early school years.

At times, my physical problems have discouraged me, but in retrospect, I am grateful for this challenge. I have found that throughout my life, so many people have been kind, generous and sweet to me. Many people have gone out of their way to help and encourage me, and many opportunities have come to me as a result of my differences.

I have been taught and loved by countless teachers, friends, neighbors, church members and scout leaders. I believe that God has given all of us challenges to overcome, and mine are just more visible than the trials faced by others. I also believe that along with weaknesses and challenges, God also blesses us with talents.

I have had a supportive family that has treated me with love and reassurance. They have helped me develop my talents.

I have learned to do things that seemed impossible. I have excellent penmanship. I have played competitive soccer and basketball. I can dribble, shoot three-pointers and scuba dive. I can ride a recumbent bicycle, and I am an excellent driver (except for running into a snowbank after a winter storm this year.)

Following the example of my brothers, I became an Eagle Scout, and then, after persevering for many years, I earned every merit badge offered by the Boy Scouts of America.

I have been enamored with the study of music. At age 11, I was determined to learn to play the piano like my brothers. I was led to a wonderful piano teacher who had been a concert pianist but was involved in an accident that left her partially paralyzed and able to play with only two fingers. She recognized my potential talent and continues to encourage me.

I recently realized that I also have a vocal talent and have completely enjoyed participating in many community, church and school choirs. I have had many outstanding choir directors who have given me opportunities to excel. I was even able to sing and dance in my school’s “High School Musical” production.

Sharing my musical talent with others has been an amazing experience for me. I love to perform, and I am grateful to find many who enjoy listening to my music. I am hopeful that I can continue to develop my talents and that with God’s help, I can reach my potential and will be able to inspire others to achieve their dreams.