There Is Only Do: Lack of Left Hand Doesn’t Slow Lebanon’s Adams

  • Mason Adams, Lebanon High junior.

  • Lebanon High's Mason Adams, right, and Hartford's Kyle Hamilton watch the puck from center ice during a Dec. 27, 2017, clash between the teams in a holiday tournament game. Adams, 16, was born without his left hand and uses a specially-designed prosthesis to grip the top of his stick. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Lebanon High's Mason Adams prepares to pitch during a May 23, 2018, junior varsity baseball game against visiting Hanover. The three-sport athlete was born without his left hand but also plays first base and in the outfield while on the diamond. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • The specially-designed prosthesis used by Lebanon High's Mason Adams remains attached to his hockey stick during an intermission of a 2016 game against visiting Bow at Campion Rink. Adams, who's on pace to be a four-year varsity player for the Raiders, was born without his left hand. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

  • Lebanon High football lineman Mason Adams talks with assistant coach Brandon LaHaye during halftime of a Sept. 17, 2017, game at John Stark. Adams, who also competes in ice hockey and baseball, was born without his left hand. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Purchase a reprint »

Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Lebanon — Some of the longest 10 minutes of Bruce and Gretchen Adams’ lives dragged by in a hospital operating room in 2002. The couple had just welcomed their second child, Mason, to the world via a Caesarian section when a doctor tapped the new father on the shoulder in passing.

“He said there was a problem with one of Mason’s hands and that we would talk about it when we got out of the operating room,” Bruce Adams said. “The worst part was that Gretchen was lying on the table asking what’s wrong, and all I could say was, ‘I don’t know.’ I wanted her to get taken care of so that, whatever it was, we could tackle it together.”

The news was sobering: Mason was missing his left hand and most of that forearm, his limb ending in a stump just below the elbow. His parents were crushed. How would their boy tie his shoes, button a shirt or avoid school bullying? The next two days were difficult and then things got worse.

Forty-eight hours after birth, Mason stopped feeding and began to suffer seizures. The infant’s blood sugar dropped to dangerous levels and he spent nearly two weeks in a neonatal intensive care unit.

“We were doubly panicked,” said Bruce Adams, who played soccer at Lebanon High during the late 1980s. “The thought was that there must be something more significantly wrong than just the missing arm.”

Discharged after 13 days, Mason Adams recovered with no lasting effects. He grew normally, his motor skills increased apace and there were no developmental delays. The 16-year-old junior plays both ways on the line for the Lebanon High football team, which is 1-1 and hosts Monadnock on Friday.

Neither Mason Adams nor his parents have worried much about his missing hand in the intervening years.

“That 13 days in the NICU saved us, because his arm became irrelevant,” Bruce Adams said of a young man who also plays ice hockey and baseball for the Raiders. “He’s made it easy, because the things he’s wanted to do, he’s been successful at. He’s met every challenge along the way.”

One challenge came when Mason was 4 and riding in a grocery store shopping cart pushed by his mother one summer day. Gretchen noticed her son had pulled his little arm inside the short sleeve of his shirt and when she asked why, he said a nearby woman had been staring at it.

“You pull that arm out right now,” Gretchen said with playful intensity, kissing the limb once it emerged. “Don’t ever hide it. It’s who you are.”

Mason Adams is a stocky youngster with astounding speed for his build. He’s a physical forward on the ice, where he grips the top end of his hockey stick with a specially-designed prosthesis that allows rotation similar to that provided by a wrist. Adams pitches and plays first base and the outfield in baseball and will likely be a three-sport varsity athlete during the current school year.

“I’ve never thought about what he can’t do, because as far as I’ve been able to tell, he can do most everything,” said Lebanon hockey coach Jim Damren. “He certainly doesn’t hide it.”

Carter Adams, Mason’s older brother by three years, was a three-sport athlete at Lebanon High and set the athletic bar for his sibling. Balance, strength and footwork developed with endless hours on a backyard trampoline, during driveway games of street hockey and repeated episodes of catch.

“He has a completive nature, but I couldn’t just let him win,” said Carter Adams, now a University of New England soccer player. “I always worried about him getting teased and bullied, but his whole life has been about adapting and moving up to the next level.”

During football, Mason Adams plays guard on offense and tackle and end on defense, relying on precise footwork and quickness to close on opponents.

“I get in there and use my face for support,” he said. “I want to get my whole body inside of their arms and drive them back. It’s more speed and leverage than pure strength.”

Lebanon football coach Chris Childs said Adams was previously able to rely on a one-handed grab of a runner’s jersey to make a tackle. The boy grew facial hair in fifth grade and was usually much stronger than his peers, but playing opponents as much as three years older changed the equation last fall.

“He’s starting to get his shoulders more involved,” said Childs, who also oversees a weightlifting program in which Adams works to increase strength on his weaker left side. “Technique is even more important for him, but he never makes an excuse about having one arm.”

The Adams boys both played hockey from an early age, and Mason at first used a prosthetic with two hooks on the end. Those would be taped around the top end of his stick but didn’t allow him much range of motion.

A longtime patient of various orthopedic specialists at the Shriners’ Hospitals in Springfield, Mass., Adams benefited a few years back from the construction of a specialized hockey prosthetic that attaches to his left arm via a sort of suction cup. It’s made in Europe and costs $2,500.

A hockey stick’s butt end slides into an opening at the device’s bottom end and there’s a rotating component in the middle, allowing him to stickhandle and shoot to such a degree that many opponents and fans never notice the absence of a left-handed glove.

Damren once asked Adams what would happen if he broke his stick during a game. Hockey rules require a skater to immediately drop the stick and skate away if that happens.

“I’ll just pull my arm off,” Adams said.

Damren said he’s still waiting for such an occurrence and wonders what spectators’ reactions will be.

“He has a really good sense of humor about his situation,” Damren said, noting that Lebanon’s No. 4 has teammates tie his cleats and skates before practices and games.

Said football teammate Wade Rainey: “When I first moved here in seventh grade, I thought him missing an arm was a big deal. But when you’re his friend and teammate, what pops out at you is that he’s a tough player and a good kid.

“Having him be a part of our lives, it helps us get past what’s on the surface for other people, too.”

Baseball is a bit for trickier for Adams, because after he catches a ball, he must tuck his glove under his upper left arm and transfer the ball to his right hand. He’s found the quickest way to do so is with the glove’s opening facing the ground, followed by a slight release of pressure, allowing the ball to drop downward. Digging the ball out of an upward-facing glove wedged under his arm takes a little more time.

Batting isn’t easy for anyone, but Adams, who tackles it right-handed, can’t adjust as easily to various swing planes. He’s had to develop a keen eye for pitches in what he describes as “my 6-inch wheelhouse.”

When pitching, Adams will use his bare hand to field softer ground balls or simply get out of the way of harder ones, leaving them for his infielders. Opponents aren’t usually inclined to bunt after seeing how quickly he gets off the mound, but they’ve been known to heckle him about his disability.

“We’ve been around it for so long, we let it go in one ear and out the other,” Bruce Adams said. “Teenage kids are going to be teenage kids.”

Significant trouble has been averted, the father guessed, by his son’s imposing stature and emotional maturity. The topic of his shorter arm is rarely off-limits to friends and strangers alike.

“If people want to look, they can look,” Mason Adams said. “It might be the only time they’ve seen somebody with a missing limb.”

The only time Adams recalls being upset in regard to his little arm was when he heard through the grapevine that a young lady had accepted a date with him because she felt sorry for his condition. But, as Adams points out, it’s not only the arm that makes him different.

“I’m the only kid in the high school with a full beard,” he said with a chuckle.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.