Clay Dyer is standing on a table in front of 1,200 kids and parents at Disney's Coronado Ballroom in Orlando. Let's be as clear as possible about this. Clay was born with no legs, only a nub beneath each hip. He has no left arm and only a partial limb hangs from his right sleeve. He does not use prosthetics, so his jean shorts drag behind him on the table as he moves from one side to the other, taking questions. There are a million of them stirring in minds — like how he got onto the table in the first place — but time for Clay to answer just a few.
"How did you do in school?" asks a teenage girl.
"I was an honor student. I was honored to get out."
"Can you open a Starburst?"
"If I'm hungry enough, I can open anything."
"Can you tie a fisherman's knot?"
Clay says nothing. Using a knob of cartilage at the end of his right appendage, he tugs a rod and reel off the table and balances the rod tip on his one full shoulder. A lure appears on that cartilage lump so quickly that nobody knows for sure how it got there. The microphone clipped to Clay's shirt picks up some sounds inside his mouth as he pulls the fishing line through the miniscule eyelet on the lure with his teeth. Then the line disappears behind his lips. Not a single eyeball in the room moves. They want to see how the man on stage pulls this one off.
To Clay Dyer, there is nothing special about Clay Dyer. He is not a stuntman or a magician, trying to do the indescribable for an audience. With each passing minute, he leaves everyone around him asking, "How?"
How? This is his life.
Look at him in the face. Try not to notice that he is 38 inches high. You see the classic square jaw of a natural athlete. You see a thick neck scrolling into what should be square shoulders. Stop there and you'd wonder why anyone would make such a big deal about him driving his own boat and fishing on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour with 200 of the world's top professional anglers.
But then...but then the left collarbone stops before a shoulder can begin, and it's calloused from cradling a fishing rod under his jawbone day after day. What should be a right arm is about the size of a miniature baseball bat. Legs. There is nothing to describe for legs.
"No arms or legs, and he can do everything with the pros except buckle his life vest," says two-time FLW Angler of the Year Jay Yelas. "But the most amazing thing to me is, I don't know anyone who enjoys life as much as Clay. I also don't know anyone who has as much right to complain every day."
Listen to Clay talk. He uses no medical jargon when his limbs are part of the conversation. He says he uses his wheelchair only around home to keep his pants from dragging on the carpet and getting ruined when he scoots around on his hips. He doesn't feel any special privileges are in order because of … this.
"I work out most mornings here in the living room," he says. Next to him, on the seat of a chair, chest-high for Clay, is his iPhone. He pulled it, somehow, from his pants pocket, and every few minutes he exchanges messages with his sponsors and fellow anglers by working the touchpad with his nose and lips. "Before I turned pro, I never thought conditioning would be so important. We're out there eight, 10 hours a day. So I jog and do sprints until I'm exhausted. Of course, it might take me 30 or 40 paces to go what others can do in 10."
This is true of everything for Clay, from the time he gets out of bed in the morning until he washes off the smell of fish at night. Every single step is a defiant I-will-do-this.
"He never considered himself handicapped," says his 74-year-old maternal grandmother, Jane Gann. Clay and his parents, Clarence and Beverly Dyer, have lived in the same Hamilton, Alabama, home with Jane and her husband, Pride, since 1991, when Beverly went back to the University of Alabama to pursue her doctorate in education. The eight acres of shaded land and the family support have proved to be as healthy as they are convenient — and have given the grandparents more time to marvel at Clay. Jane goes into the bathroom and demonstrates how Clay presses his electric razor within a stack of towels and moves his face around the rotating blades to shave. "He does the same thing with his toothbrush," she says. She has seen him do this for most of his 30 years, but she still speaks incredulously, as if describing how she saw a grizzly bear putting on a nightgown.
For the family, it isn't so much the act that fills a room with thick emotion. It's the accomplishment. "When he was growing up, they had a group of kids painting the steps at the football stadium," says Jane. "He said, 'I want to help.' I thought like a lot of people do: 'How? What's he going to do?' But we took him up there and dropped him off." The next day Jane was flipping through the newspaper, and stopped cold on a picture. It was Clay, with a paintbrush taped to his arm so he could help paint the steps.
Nobody with even one good arm can fully understand how he drives his boat, a Ranger 520 VX. But there he is, tooling around Pickwick Lake, 80 miles north of Hamilton, softly quartering wakes at 65 mph. The only difference between his boat and the others on the FLW Tour is that Clay's has a traditional stick throttle instead of the foot pedal preferred on high-speed bass boats. He swings that knob between the steering wheel and throttle. The moves are at the same time quick and casual, a full-speed oxymoron. He pulls the boat into neutral, shuts down the motor and shimmies his body up to the forward casting deck. Watch. It all happens so fast. How'd he get the tackle box out? How'd he position the boat so perfectly with the trolling motor? How'd he get the weeds off the hook? There's a splash near the boat.