By Sharine Xuan, 15, South Pasadena HS
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Nastja Rebrin, 16, is an athlete. She has played softball, water polo, football, ice hockey, swam, and raced horses. Would it surprise you if you found out she does all this with one arm?

"I will try everything. I don’t think there is anything I can’t do with only one arm, well except for juggling, which I don’t really care much for anyway. A lot of people take everything they can do with both hands for granted. I cherish my legs. Through being handicapped, sometimes you need to think of what you have, not what you don’t have. I refuse to think about everything in a sad way."

She calmly explained that her arm had been cut off at the elbow while she was in the womb. Her umbilical cord, the cord that goes from the mother to the baby’s belly button in order to feed nutrients to the baby, wrapped around her right arm, cutting off circulation.

"Actually I’m pretty lucky that it didn’t wrap around my neck, because that happens pretty often." She says with a big smile. "If it did, well … I wouldn’t be here."

That’s Nastja (pronounced Nast-ya), strong-willed and humorous. This girl knows exactly what she wants to do and she won’t let anything get in her way.

She proudly listed all the sports she has played at South Pasadena High School—JV softball, JV water polo, JV football, and Varsity swimming and water polo. "I like sports because you get a sense of camaraderie from your teammates. It’s a special form of unity and a chance to meet new people. Plus it gets you in shape. When I’m really exhausted, I feel great. When I’m bored, I get in trouble. I hate being bored."

Freshman year, Nastja was the only girl on South Pasadena High School’s football team.

"I found such equality with the team. All the guys tackled me. " She laughed. "They knew that if they didn’t tackle me, I sure as hell would have tackled them."

She continued playing the positions of defensive end, defensive tackle, and offensive tackle all through freshman and sophomore year.

Not everyone has been supportive of her love for sports. "Sophomore football was the best ever, up until summer training for junior year. I made it to varsity but refused to play because that summer, I had a conversation with a person who kicked my self-esteem to the ground. There were people who didn’t want me to play. One of the coaches told me football would be a dead end for a girl after high school. My friends on the team came up to me and told me all the things the coach was saying in the locker room to the guys, how he would bench me for the whole season if I continued. The later it got in summer training, the less fun it got. Finally I just quit. When I play a sport, it has to have a certain amount of fun in it."

She went for water polo

Friends encouraged Nastja to go for the water polo team. The coach was willing to put her on varsity, but feeling unsure after her experience on the football team, she decided to stay on the junior varsity team for a year. This year, she is going to give the varsity team 100 percent.

Tyrone Brown, who coaches the girls water polo team, said Nastja will be one of his power players. Last year, he noted, the team was second in the Rio Hondo League.

As a disabled athlete, Nastja faces special challenges. In softball, she practiced swinging the bat with her left arm every chance she got until she perfected the art of hitting with one arm. She learned to catch the ball with her mitt on her left hand, take off the mitt, and throw the ball back. She practiced until it became one fluid movement, as fast and easy as it would be for someone with two hands.

One of the keys to her success is the people around her. "My friends are a big part in my life, they are always there. My family is very supportive, even though they are very busy. They shaped me to be independent, shaped me to be who I am."

Her academic teachers, she shyly admitted, have also made a big difference. As she sipped a caramel frappuccino at Starbucks, she winced. "I hate to say this, but I have to. My teachers … I’ve had some very good teachers. Mr. Kemp [her science teacher at South Pasadena High] made me a student. I used to be just average, didn’t care much … He made me work my ass off. A lot of things I owe to him."

When asked if she ever wishes that she had two hands, she thinks for a moment.

"Well I don’t really know what it feels like, so I can’t say. But getting a bionic arm has always been an option. They put wires into my arm and attach it to the muscles. It would take 6-10 years to get used to with all kinds of physical therapy. And it’s really expensive. It would really be a big adjustment. In this society, a lot of things are based on looks, superficial. Having a bionic arm might change the initial reaction from people. I won’t be any different from anyone else, because it’ll look real."

When asked what she thought about dating, she said, "Well, since I just got out of a relationship, I don’t really know what to say about it.

"Relationships are very time-consuming. They need to know I have a lot to do … My priorities are my school and my family. Whatever else, that’s fine. But I can’t let that distract me."

Her dreams are closer than ever now, at the beginning of senior year. Besides playing sports, Nastja will be focusing on her studies. She wants to be a doctor, to help people. And someday, she would like to have a ranch up north.

"Ideally Montana, Minnesota, Maine, somewhere like that. I want to be a rancher and have lots of cows. I grew up in Germany, where everything is soooo green after all the rain we get. I’m not used to the climate here in California.

"My biggest fear in life is not accomplishing my goals."