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Jan. 17, 2022

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One-legged Columbia River baseball player takes challenges in stride

Born without lower right leg, Columbia River senior uses discipline, sheer will, prosthesis to hone his baseball skills

By , Columbian High School Sports Reporter
5 Photos
Manheimer plays first base for the Columbia River High School baseball team.
Manheimer plays first base for the Columbia River High School baseball team. He has learned to locate the base with his prosthetic right leg when applying a force out. Photo Gallery

Daren Manheimer has the same mentality of any baseball player in the batter’s box, awaiting the pitch.

He has to find a way to get on base. Any way.

So even 10 years ago, when he was playing coach-pitch youth baseball on a muddy diamond, he knew he had a job to do.

Sure, he had concerns about the muck.

Still, it didn’t matter. Get on base.

As soon as he made contact, he burst out of the box, running as fast as he could toward first base.

A few steps down the base path, his foot got stuck in the mud.

Then his prosthetic leg popped off, and Daren had to hop the rest of the way.

He looked back, and sure enough, his right leg was sticking straight up, right where he, ahem, left it.

Opponents and teammates “freaked out” at the sight, he said.

“My leg came off, but I didn’t quit,” Daren recalled with pride.

He has never given up, actually.

There have been tough times — some intense battles with depression — but Daren Manheimer just kept running, hopping when he needed to, in order to chase his baseball dream.

Now a senior in high school, Daren Manheimer, who was born without a lower right leg, is a varsity baseball player for the Columbia River Chieftains.

“I know there are limitations. I compensate with everything else that I have,” Daren said. “My heart, obviously. I use all the will I have to keep pushing. I do what I can to my full potential.”

His spot on the team was earned, coach Stephen Donohue said. At the varsity level, every player on the roster has a role.

“He has one of the better swings in our program. Mechanically, he’s one of the best,” Donohue said. “He’s a talented player.”

Daren has played in most games this season. He can be seen at first base. Other days he is a designated hitter. He has pitched in relief, as well.

“I’m with my school at the top of the top, playing with the best teams in the state,” Daren said. “Even with my difficulties, I pushed through it and here I am.”

Born different

Daren suffered from fibular hemimelia caused by amniotic band syndrome when he was in his mother’s womb. ABS occurs when an unborn baby gets entangled in the “fibrous, stringlike amniotic bands of the amniotic sac,” according to Shriners Hospital for Children. The restriction of blood flow can cause deformities.

His twin brother, Gavin, was not affected.

When they were young, Daren would look at his brother’s legs and count one-two, one-two, then look at his body and just count to one. Then he would ask his mom why.

“Sometimes things happen and we didn’t know why,” Leslie Manheimer would tell Daren. “That’s just the way it is.

“Then I’d go to the bathroom and cry.”

Those days were difficult, but the Manheimer family also was quick to bounce back.

Ian Manheimer had a simple philosophy for his son:

“Suck it up, buttercup,” dad would say.

Shriners Hospital would provide Daren with much of the life-improving procedures he would need through the years, including a number of prosthetic legs as he grew.

There have been very few excuses for Daren in the Manheimer family since then.

“God gave you one leg. Shriners gave you the other. Get up,” Leslie would tell Daren.

Gavin also is on Columbia River’s baseball team, but it was Daren who first started playing the game. He was at the diamond watching his cousin play a Little League game. He was 6 years old, and he was hooked.

His old prosthetic looked like a leg. It had a foot and even had skin color. But it was not made for sports. Still, Daren did what he could.

“I run differently. I know that. Always felt different. It’s weird,” he said. “But as long as it gets the job done, I’m content with it.”

Still, he had to persevere through some odd moments, such as that one on the muddy diamond.

In a kickball game, he kicked with his prosthetic. The ball — and his leg — went flying. He hopped his way to a double.

“I sat on second base waiting for someone to bring me my leg,” he said.

A couple years ago, life improved when Daren received a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation for a new leg. He was fitted for a Cheetah Xplore by Ossur, a blade.

The “foot” of the blade has a heel, allowing Daren to wear a shoe, or a baseball cleat. The “foot” also is split, to help Daren’s agility. It gives him more of an explosion when he pushes off the blade.

“It changed the way I play,” he said. “I’m able to move more quickly. My skills as a player have definitely increased.”

Now he uses the blade all the time, on and off the field.

Senior Jacob Barnes has played with Daren since they were freshmen.

“He’s very inspirational. I can’t even tell a difference. He’s just like all of us. He’s better than most of us,” Barnes said. “What he can do is amazing.”

Barnes acknowledged that when he first saw Daren, he did not think Daren would make it to varsity.

That was the Daren with a different attitude, and a different prosthetic.

“I didn’t think he’d be able to get to the talent level he is at now,” Barnes said. “He’s exceeded all expectations.”

Fighting a funk

He received the leg at the perfect time, too. Daren has had two difficult times in his life due to his body, times when he was not so sure he would come out of his funk.

The first was early in his sixth-grade year, when he spent close to four months at home recovering from a broken femur — the thigh bone that supported his prosthesis. He missed out on meeting new friends that first year of middle school. He also was unable to play baseball that spring.

A few years later, during his first two years at Columbia River, Daren acknowledged he started getting sensitive about his condition.

“My mood, overall, was just down,” he said. “It might have been because of my leg. It’s always something that has been on my mind, always something that made me different.”

His grades suffered. His parents worried about him.

Even on the baseball field, the place he normally thrived, Daren just was not feeling it. Little remarks from teammates that Daren used to either laugh off or encourage started to sting.

He was called “three-fourths” because he had three of four limbs. Or “75 cents” because he was not a full dollar.

“They were joking. They didn’t mean it hurtful,” Daren said. “But it was hard for me.”

A talk with his father turned it around for Daren in the spring of his sophomore year. It was all about having the right frame of mind while approaching life. Ian found a quote and shared it with his son.

“A negative mind will never give you a positive life.”

It became a maxim for Daren.

“Ever since that moment, grades went up, skills as a player went up, and my attitude was always up,” Daren said. “My life changed.

“I had to question myself to change myself. How is a negative mind going to help me?”

That also was about the same time he got the Cheetah Xplore blade.

Junior year, he did not make varsity. He would get more reps playing first base on junior varsity.

By the end of the season, Daren was one of the JV players “called up” to varsity for the postseason.

“It’s hard to play JV as a junior. But he never changed his attitude,” Donohue said. “He just went to work. He earned it.”

Those couple of weeks were important to Daren. But what it really did was motivate him to improve for his senior season.

Fortunately, he always has a training partner nearby. Daren and Gavin bicker at each other like brothers do, but they are there for each other. Daren even acknowledged he is “jealous” of Gavin’s swing.

Sure, it is a compliment, but it also fires up Daren.

“He definitely helps me even if he doesn’t think he is,” Daren said. “That competitiveness drives me to be a better player. I want to be better than him because he’s my twin.”

Overcoming obstacles

Daren’s drive has led him to this final high school season.

The spring of 2017 has been a pain for baseball players. So much rain. So much chaos with the schedule.

But Daren Manheimer finds it difficult to complain. He is making plays, making memories.

It took a few games for his first big moment.

Hitless in his first two games in the lineup, he got hit by a pitch in his first plate appearance in his third game.

The next time, he hit a line drive but directly to the left fielder for an out.

Then it happened — that first varsity hit — on his third trip to the plate.

Line drive single to left to drive in a run, too.

“I’m going to remember this for the rest of my career,” he said. “I was actually shaking.”

Don’t look for him to hit too many home runs, though.

“Your power comes from your back leg but I don’t have one,” he said with a smile. “I’m more of a contact hitter.”

In the field, he is solid. But that took years of practice, too. All ballplayers must practice, but Manheimer had to develop a skill not required by those with two legs.

“That’s the foot I keep on the bag,” he said, pointing to his blade, referring to his position at first base. “I have to use my own knowledge and senses. I have to have a feel for it. I’ve developed a feeling for my leg even though it’s not there.”

Daren’s grades rebounded last year, his game improved, and he has returned to having fun with what was a touchy subject.

The Manheimer family used to live in Florida. Daren likes to tell folks that he lost his leg when, as a baby, his father jokingly dangled him in front of an alligator, and, well, the alligator won.

Nowadays, he is back to enjoying good-natured nicknames from teammates and friends.

“Peg leg. I’m a pirate. Pirates are cool,” he said.

Now that he has his life in order, he hopes he can be an aide to younger athletes who might have to overcome adversity.

“I’ve been told I’m an inspiration. I kind of embrace it,” Daren said. “If I can help others, that’s an amazing feeling.

“I believe you have to see the positives in life. I have one leg, but I still compete. There’s always a positive side of things. That would be my message. There’s always a positive side.”

Columbian High School Sports Reporter