1981 – Breese, Illinois: It was tough love time. Carol Foppe called a meeting with her husband and seven of her eight sons. Ten-year-old John wasn’t invited. Carol told the boys not to help John get dressed the next morning. It was time for her fourth grader to dress himself for school. They were not to assist John, regardless of how many tantrums he threw. Any who failed to follow Mom’s orders would be disciplined.
The next morning, as usual, John asked younger brother Ron to help him put on his pants. Ron refused. John screamed for his mother to come help him. Carol came to John’s bedroom, calmly told him he had to dress himself, and then shut the door. John screamed, “You’re the meanest mother ever. You don’t love me. I can’t do this. It is impossible. I just won’t go to school!”
After an hour of yelling, screaming and feeling sorry for himself, John figured out how to put his pants on. He used a technique of lying on the floor and gradually slipping the pants up his legs. It was the lowest moment of his life – and the turning point.
John Foppe was born in 1971 in Breese, Illinois, the fourth of Ron and Carol Foppe’s eight sons. Carol knew there was a problem when the nurse brought a priest when she presented the baby. She removed the blanket to discover her baby had no arms. “Well at least he has legs,” she lamented to Ron. “We aren’t treating him any differently than the other boys. You go out and buy your cigars.”
When John was three-years-old, Ron dubbed him left-footed because that was the foot he preferred to draw with. John learned to use his feet the way other children use their hands. He learned to write, open soft drinks, and eat with his feet. He swam, rode horses and ATV’s with his brothers. At 16, he could drive a car with his feet.
After high school, John earned a B.A. Degree in Communications in 1992 from St. Louis University, graduating Cum Laude. That same year, he went to work for motivational speaking legend Zig Ziglar in Dallas, Texas. At age 21, John traveled the globe with Ziglar sharing his story.
In 1995, John returned to St. Louis and started his own motivational business, Visionary Velocity Worldwide. He traveled to 25 countries working with Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing, General Electric, and State Farm Insurance. In 2000, despite a busy speaking schedule, John earned a master’s degree in Social Services from St. Louis University.
John met Christine Fulbright at a speech in Carlyle, Illinois, in 2002. He proposed seven weeks later. During the wedding ceremony, Christine placed a ring on John’s right second toe. The couple now has a ten-year-old daughter, Faith Teresa, who enjoys cooking with John. She likes to watch John crack eggs with his toes.
John enjoys painting, especially German landscapes, and is the author of the book, What’s Your Excuse: Making the Most of What You Have. He types with his toes, and sends emails and messages on his iPhone, flipping it out of his pocket with his foot, then using his nose and toes to manipulate the phone.
Today John is the Executive Director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis – a charity that takes care of the poor and needy. A man with no arms touches thousands of people. He often talks about the day he had to put his pants on for the first time. “The day my mother made me start dealing with not having any arms,” John says, “was the day she gave me wings.”
“Our only real handicaps are the thoughts that blind us and the old tired excuses that paralyze us.” John Foppe