Written by Lindsey Lowe Osborne
As a kid, Bob Lujano dreamed of what many little boys do: He wanted to play sports. He wanted to grow up and be an athlete. He wanted to dunk basketballs or hit ’em out of the park or catch the pass for the winning touchdown. When he (inevitably) got hurt, he wanted to rub some dirt in it.
On Jan. 7, 1979, at the age of 9, Lujano contracted meningococcemia, a rare form of meningitis. To save his life, his doctors amputated all four of his limbs. Lujano thought then that his dreams of playing sports competitively—as well as the dream of simply growing up—had been taken, too. “In regards to how I deal with my disability, I get through it with faith in God, a support system, and family and friends and also just realizing that my disability is for a greater purpose,” he says. It didn’t take long for him to set a new goal: He wanted to live as independently as possible. Today, Lujano is living out that dream as reality.
He grew up in Kansas and got his history pre-law degree from the University of Texas at Arlington, and his master’s in recreation sport management from the University of Tennessee. From there, he went to Atlanta and worked at the 1996 Paralympic Games. Then, in 1998 he moved to Birmingham for a position at the Lakeshore Foundation, an organization with a mission “to enable people with physical disability and chronic health conditions to lead healthy, active, and independent lifestyles through physical activity, sport, recreation, and research.” The Lakeshore Foundation offers youth and adult recreation, athletic, and aquatic programs, as well as a family health promotion program and an injured military rehabilitation program. In Lakeshore, Lujano found a place that not only believed in his mission for an independent life but partnered with him to make it happen. In fact, though he lives independently and is involved in athletics now, what he loves most about his life is his involvement at the Lakeshore Foundation—he is an information specialist at the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD), which is headquartered at Lakeshore.
In 1995, Lujano was introduced to the sport of quad rugby through the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. He quickly became enamored. “I love rugby because of the physical contact and the speed of the game,” says Lujano. “[I love] the social aspect, too, being able to develop friendships and to struggle as a team.” Lujano’s experiences as a rugby player were captured in 2005 in the Academy-Award-nominated documentary MURDERBALL. The film follows Lujano and his teammates as they vied for the gold medal at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece; ultimately, Lujano’s team brought home the bronze. Moreover, the film shows that quadriplegics are capable of living normal lives; from brushing their teeth to driving to having families, they’re just like the rest of us. That’s Lujano’s message, too; in any case, it’s the one he shares just by living his life. “What people don’t know about me is that I like to cook, I like to go to movies, I love to travel, and I love to dance,” he says. “I very much enjoy going to church. I try to go two to three times a week; I love the struggle comes with having a faith in God, to know that there are days that will be difficult but also knowing that I will overcome, thanks be to God.”
Seven years ago, Lujano’s sister ran into a writer in Los Angeles. She shared Lujano’s story with her, suggesting that it would make a great book. The writer, Tara Schiro, set out to do just that, partnered alongside Lujano.
The project took seven years—Lujano painstakingly recorded his story on cassette tapes, and then Schiro transcribed it. He says the book is his way of sharing his philosophy on life: There’s nothing that can’t be overcome; there’s no place that’s hopeless. “I wrote the book to say thank you to God for all he has done for me, as well as to thank my family for all of their unconditional love and support,” Lujano says. “[I want] to let my family and friends of this generation know that with faith in God, you can accomplish anything no matter how difficult your life may be.” No Arms, No Legs, No Problem: When Life Happens, You Can Wish to Die or Choose to Live was published in December of 2014 and is available on Amazon.
These days, Lujano stays busy with his work at Lakeshore, rugby practice (he practices every weeknight and on Saturdays), and speaking engagements across the country, of which he says he’s the most proud. He’s also heavily involved in his church, Prince of Peace, as well as with Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Homewood, as a lector and a Eucharistic minister. Mostly, he’s just continuing forward, sharing his messages. “What is the catch with the title of the book?” he asks. “‘No arms, no legs, no problem’ reflects the way I have been raised. It also reveals what can happen when barriers are removed from a person’s life.
“I feel very thankful to God that I have my disability,” he says. “I very much enjoy the success and the struggles, the times I have failed and the times I have overcome. At the end of the day, I just give thanks and praise to God for my disability.”