The Five-fin­gers Club

A teen helps a younger boy see that their shared dif­fer­ence is no handicap to suc­cess


JAYCE CROW­DER be­gan notic­ing when he was in kinder­garten that he looked dif­fer­ent from his class­mates. They had two hands. He had one.

It started when one boy teased him, says his mother, Cort­ney Lewis. Jayce’s bub­bly en­thu­si­asm soured to sul­len­ness. He’d re­turn to their Des Moines, Iowa, home with ques­tions: Why am I dif­fer­ent? Why me? Why?

“He ac­tu­ally told us he was mad at God for mak­ing him that way,” his mother says. “That was a huge dag­ger to the heart.”

Lewis ad­mits she didn’t know what to do at that point. How could she pro­vide an­swers to her son’s ques­tions when she had never found those an­swers her­self?

A few weeks later, Lewis came home from her job as an or­thodon­tic as­sis­tant and turned on the TV to a news story about a six-foot-three eighth grader from Wash­ing­ton, Iowa. Trashaun Wil­lis, then 14, had be­come an In­ter­net sen­sa­tion af­ter post­ing videos of his slam dunks, and, like Jayce, he was miss­ing most of his left arm. Lewis called Jayce in. He was riv­eted,

watch­ing dunk af­ter mon­strous dunk.

At the time, it seemed that watch­ing Trashaun would sim­ply be an in­spir­ing mo­ment for Jayce—he’d see a thriv­ing role model with a seem­ingly sim­i­lar con­gen­i­tal de­fect. And had it stayed just that, Lewis would have been happy. But lit­tle did she know that a fam­ily friend had al­ready reached out to the Des Moines Reg­is­ter, ask­ing the news­pa­per to help set up a meet­ing with Trashaun to build Jayce’s con­fi­dence.

The boys met at Wash­ing­ton Mid­dle School on a Satur­day after­noon a cou­ple of months later, in April 2017, and in­stantly bonded. Both of them had had am­ni­otic band syn­drome in the womb, a rare con­di­tion that caused strands from their moth­ers’ am­ni­otic sacs to wrap around their left el­bows, stunt­ing growth be­yond that point.

The day was not spent wal­low­ing in self-pity—it was ded­i­cated to fun. They rode bikes around the school’s hall­ways, took pho­tos, played hide­and-seek, and shot bas­kets. Trashaun taught Jayce to fin­ish with a high re­lease and put some back­spin on the ball. He even gave Jayce a shirt that says “Ten fin­gers are over­rated.”

At one point, Trashaun did get se­ri­ous with Jayce. He talked about their left arms—or lack thereof. He told Jayce he was per­fect the way God made him. He said not to let any­one drag him down and that words don’t need to shake his con­fi­dence.

“It re­as­sured me,” says Lewis. “I know in my heart that ev­ery­thing’s go­ing to be OK. Trashaun has grown up to be a won­der­ful kid. And I know Jayce is too. As a par­ent, that’s all you want to know: that ev­ery­thing’s go­ing to be OK.”

Since that meet­ing, Lewis has seen a pro­nounced dif­fer­ence in her son, who is now seven and in sec­ond grade. He re­cently started wrestling and loves it. Lewis points to Trashaun’s in­flu­ence. Meet­ing him, she said, made Jayce “un­der­stand that there are oth­ers like him.”

As for Trashaun, his re­la­tion­ship with Jayce made him look for­ward to help­ing more kids, per­haps as a youth coach with Nuba­bil­ity, a non­profit ded­i­cated to coach­ing kids with limb dif­fer­ences.

“Hon­estly, it means a lot to know that I changed Jayce’s life,” Trashaun says. Still, he never dreamed that his videos would have such an im­pact. “I just thought my friends would see [my videos] and be like, ‘Oh, he dunked it!’”

He cer­tainly did.

“As a par­ent, that’s all you want to know: that ev­ery­thing’s go­ing to be OK.”

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