It only takes a quick glance to see Mike Begum has it rougher than the rest of us.
Crippled by a rare disease and confined to his northwest Houston home, you would think Mike is simply left to the mercy of a cold, often uncaring universe.
But then, you'd be wrong. Carried along, sometimes literally, by family and friends, Mike has found "magic legs" in a virtual Valhalla.
== Brolylegs and the Curse of Circumstance ==
For the past 24 years, Arthrogryposis has been Mike's real-life kryptonite. His legs are bent at a right angle and his arms are hooked closely to his chest. Mike said his brain simply forgot to tell his muscles to grow. "My muscles are very weak, so I have very little use of them. My bone structure is conjointed; they can't move more than they can," he said.
Save for crawling and rolling, Mike's congenital disorder tethers him to the ground on a very short leash. His dad, who passed away three years ago, built him a motorized wheel-bed to get around. "This is what we have to go through everyday. It's kind of hard on their backs," Mike's mom, Josie, said as his brother and sister hoisted him onto the bed.
And it's not the only thing his siblings and mother have to do. Mike requires almost 24/7 care. Josie, a single mom, said she gets by while her other son, John, works nights at a hotel. "It's been a challenge since his father passed away. I'm grateful to my son and my daughter who have helped me everyday with him."
Sans treatment, Mike has found some reprieve from Arthrogryposis. Wrapping his face and hands around an XBOX 360 controller, it was hard not to see his spirit grow when it came to his life's passion: video games.
== The World's Greatest Chun Li Player ==
"I play fighting games because when people get to know me,
I'm a competitive guy. I just enjoy being the best." Watching Mike's matches on YouTube is one thing, but it was hard to fully absorb the scene in front of me. Chun Li was unleashing flurries of kicks while carefully blocking blows high and low. Turning away from the TV, Mike appeared to be busily gnawing away at his controller.
Appearances can be deceiving. A closer look revealed a young man fighting, literally, tooth and nail to win. "I don't remember exactly how I learned to play with my hands and my face, I just … it's more like a natural thing where I just look at what I can play with and what I can do and if I'm able make it work, I'll do it," Mike said.
The ironies of Mike's life aren't lost on him. His handle, "BrolyLegs", comes from the name of the legendary Super Saiyan in the Dragon Ball Z movies. It's kind of an inside joke to those who know Mike and his condition. The fact that Chun Li happens to be his favorite character was just random coincidence. "She's kind of an irony character to me because her main moves are using her legs and I can't use mine. It's supposed to be a funny joke, but then she's actually compatible with my button selects," he said.
== Mike's Pit Personal Pit Crew ==
That attitude has become Mike's personal "Ark" in the fight game. Steadily winning tournaments and matches in Brownsville and other parts of the country, he has gained recognition for both his condition and his skill. His 18-year-old sister Karin said she isn't a gamer, but she knows enough to recognize how popular he is. "I love seeing people's reactions to him. He amazes people everyday."
Mike's brother, John, is his personal caddy and sparring partner, ferrying him around and making sure he's at the top of his game. The pair recently took a trip to the Texas Showdown Championship at the 2012 Anime Matsuri Convention in the Woodlands. Though Mike did not win, John's enthusiasm for his brother hasn't diminished. "He's truly amazing. He makes me want to try harder for myself because I've seen him pushing himself to the limit, getting better and better," John said.
In addition to Mike's success, John clearly takes pride in the fact that his brother has found a place where his condition is just background to who he is as a person. "He'll go to a tournament and beat somebody and you'll find a person getting angry … but I think it's great, they're treating him as a competitor."
== Big Dreams Need Big Springboard ==
Mike's good. Of that, there is no question, but his dreams of being a pro gamer have been put on hold. As it so happens, cruel fate has again decided to plague the Begums. Mike can get around well enough on his motor-bed, but long-distance traveling requires his customized van.
That van is currently rusting away on the family's driveway. Josie took me on a brief tour of the van. A small towel covered the top part of the lift and a rusting hole was slowly opening inside. "It's so sad because he wants go out and be out in the summer time. It's (the van) just in bad condition." While it could be repaired, Josie and the family would be much happier with a new van.
Though Mike and his passion for the fight game remain landlocked in his sunny suburban home, it's not stopping his other dream. He's currently pursuing a business management degree and plans to open a video game store in the future.
Dreaming big is Mike's forte and he said he owes much of that to his late father. "He was a very strong, strong man. He pushed everyone to their full potential. I owe it all to him. Even though he said these games weren't going to pay the bills. But he encouraged me a lot to do the things I want to do. I wish he could see how I am now."
If you'd like to donate to Mike "BrolyLegs" Begum or see how good he is for yourself, here's a link to his fund on PayPal and his Youtube and Twitter pages: