TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — Florida artist Chris Kuster lost the use of his legs and hands during a shallow diving accident when he was 21 years old. But while he accepted he would live the rest of his life as a person with quadriplegia, he could not accept the loss of one of his passions — drawing.
That led Kuster to develop a method where he draws using only his mouth. His hard work and dedication have paid off in illustrating his first children's book.
"I struggled at first thinking, 'I can't do this, I can't do this,' and then I started seeing it was a lot easier than you would think it is," Kuster said.
Drawing has become much more than just a hobby for Kuster.
"It was like an eye-opening experience how I was able to just release myself through the physical bonds that I have through my artwork," he said.
His cartoons and doodles soon caught the attention of a group called the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists.
"It's an organization that lets disabled people earn a living by selling their artwork through books, cards, calendars," Kuster said.
The MFPA went on to connect Kuster with the family of paralympic athlete Nick Springer, who asked him to illustrate a children's book based on Springer's life — one that Kuster understood all too well.
"It's an amazing story about a young man who contracts bacterial meningitis and ends up having his arms and his legs amputated," Kuster said.
Despite his disability, Springer went on to play wheelchair rugby, helping the U.S. win a gold medal in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.
"I think there is a lack of representation about disabled children in children's literature," Kuster said.
Springer died before the book was released, but Kuster is honored to keep his story alive through his heartfelt illustrations.
"I've received so many notes and letters about the book being read in class and what students have to say," Kuster said.
"Nick Springer On The Move" is available for purchase at the MFPA's website.
This story was originally published by Robert Boyd on Scripps station WFTS in Tampa, Florida.