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Meet David!

Professional actor, writer, speaker and Camp No Limits Community Outreach Manager!

Yoga with a prosthetic arm

Born with a congenital limb difference, meaning his arm did not fully develop below his right elbow, David has never let his limb difference hold him back from pursuing a passion for sports and ‘treading the boards’.

We caught up with David to find out more.

What was your experience growing up with a limb difference?

Born with a congenital limb difference

My father loved baseball and all he wanted was for his kid to play. So he bought a baseball glove as a gift for me when I was born.

In those days it wasn’t customary for the partner to be in the room during the birth, so my dad was in the waiting room. The doctor came out and told my dad that he had a happy and healthy baby – with just one glitch – I’d been born without my right hand. My dad thought for a moment and decided – no problem, he’ll just have to play ball with his left hand then!

That pretty much sums up my experience growing up. In any moments of challenge or potential limitation, my father taught me to just move through it straight away and find a solution. Both my parents were concerned about what I would be able to do and in those days there were no points of reference for them.

The closest they got was being given some information about Shriners Hospital for Children from someone at church. They took me there early on and when they walked in and saw a little girl with no arms or legs getting around on a skateboard, it was a huge moment for them. It reaffirmed that kids will just be kids, no matter what and they knew I’d be ok.

What are your memories growing up?

There have been a few ups and downs in my journey. One of the ups was playing baseball (like my father always wanted me to).

Baseball with a prosthetic arm

I played when I was little and loved it. I used a prosthetic glove in the beginning but as I got older, say around 9 or 10, I found I wasn’t able to play as fast as the other kids. From being one of the better players, I suddenly wasn’t. So I set about working out how to do it myself without using anything and just kept practising until I got faster and was back up there as one of the best players again.

One of the downs would be my time at middle school. I had trouble socially and wanted to hide my limb difference, thinking it was the cause of me not having a girlfriend or being in certain friendships. But by high school I had gotten much more comfortable with it. I played baseball and football and just concentrated on being an athlete, so it didn’t bother me as much.

How did you get into acting?

By college, I knew I wanted to be an actor. I got a passive prosthetic (which is basically a prosthetic that looks like a hand but doesn’t have any functionality) as I planned to audition to be an intern at a pro company and I felt I needed to look like I had two hands.

My teacher said ‘David you’re just acting like you have two hands’ and I thought about it and decided I didn’t want to pretend. It was my body and my lived experience. So I put the prosthetic away and did the audition - and I got the internship!

David Harrell limb difference

Since that day, my limb difference has been a part of my work. I wanted to keep being authentic within my own experience. I knew people who look like me have always existed, it’s just that most of the time they have been hidden away and marginalised. I decided there was no reason to hide.

While the US is making some progress, I’m still very passionate to see more authenticity within the industry, with greater representation of different types of bodies and experiences.

What has your experience with prosthetics arms been?

I have never really needed a prosthetic, I’ve always been able to do anything I wanted without one. When I was very young, I was given a prosthetic to help with balance. Then I had a prosthetic hook, which I wore as a kid. It was a little uncomfortable though and there was a sense of stigma. Other children were also frightened because of the metal hook.

I put them all aside and didn’t touch any type of prosthetic for 20+ years. That was until 2013, when I was volunteering at a Camp No Limits camp.

I started to see some other campers using prosthetics as tools. I’d never really thought of them in that way – as a tool that could just be used to help with specific tasks.

My wife and I went kayaking on our honeymoon and that was hard for me. I got really frustrated with it. When I went to the camp the following year, someone had an attachment they used for it, and they let me try it out. It was so much easier!

That was 10 years ago and it was at that point I started using prosthetics for specific things.

How did you first come across Koalaa prosthetics?

David Harrell Camp No Limits

It was at another Camp No Limits in Arizona where I met up with mentors Victoria and Natalie, who both had Koalaa sleeves. Their prosthetics were so soft – especially compared to my carbon fibre shell one.

An attending prosthetist had one with him and I was able to use it a bit during camp. The prosthetist also had a Koalaa Paww, which is designed for those with partial hands, and I loved the fact there were two options.

What have you been doing with your Koalaa prosthetic?

I now have an ALX and my intention is to use it to get more out of exercise. I’m especially keen to do more yoga with the new Nicole Pro tool!

I currently use my ALX every day as part of my morning workout, to help me with push ups. I’ve also been looking at some of the activities other members of the Koalaa Community are doing and something I’d love to do is to learn to play the ukelele.

adaptive yoga prosthetic arm

From the whole team at Koalaa we want to say a huge thank you to David for collaborating with us throughout the design process of The Nicole Pro - David's feedback, which contributed to elements of the final design, has been invaluable!


Interested in our tool for yoga?

If you want to check out our tool which attaches to our prosthetic arm for yoga, click the link below:

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