WRIGHTSTOWN, Wis. — Different tempos came from either side of the room as kids began playing along to a recording of "Hot Cross Buns." A couple of wrong notes were sprinkled here and there, and as some shyly played, others played with a little too much oomph.
A classroom of elementary students in the early stages of learning to play the recorder can be a chaotic scene. But if you ask Isaiah Lanphear, it's all in the fun of learning something new together and never giving up along the way.
Isaiah knows a lot about resiliency. The fourth-grader lost his right hand five years ago in a lawn mowing accident. He has since had to relearn everything — from putting on socks to riding a bike.
The process has had successes and frustrations, and learning to play a new instrument has presented a different set of challenges.
But none of those challenges seem insurmountable for a 9-year-old who lives by the motto "No excuses."
Lanphear's music teacher at Wrightstown Elementary School, Stacy Juelich, admits it was about three weeks into the year before she realized Isaiah was "limb-different."
But she quickly learned he doesn't let that define him.
She knew nothing was going to stop Isaiah from playing the recorder just like all of his friends, and that meant finding a way to help make that happen.
Juelich began searching the internet for ways a one-handed person could play the recorder — as one hand is usually used to hold the instrument, while the other plays the notes. She discovered all they needed was a small wrench-shaped plastic tool to adapt the instrument — that, and a 3-D printer to make the part.
"So I did what a lot of people do these days. I posted on Facebook asking if any of my friends had access to a 3-D printer," she told the Green Bay Press-Gazette . "And I got a response right away."
Turns out, the husband of Juelich's college roommate is a student at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College in Fennimore. Daniel Wunnicke-Ready had access to all the materials and machinery needed to make the piece.
Juelich emailed the schematic for the piece to Wunnicke-Ready, who programmed it into the printer and produced the part in a little less than an hour. It cost less than a penny to make.
"It's just amazing just how much technology can bring the entire world together," Wunnicke-Ready said. "And that something so simple can make such a big difference."
Isaiah said the adaptive piece "helps stabilize the recorder," and makes playing easier and more fun.
The semi-circle side of the device clamps to the end of the recorder and acts as the grip. The other side either balances against Isaiah's chest or on his right arm — specifically on his "nub."
Juelich said the success of the tool and Isaiah's confidence are proof that anyone can play music and that there's always a way.
Isiah's mother, Lisa Lanphear, couldn't hold back tears while talking about the day five years ago that forever changed her son's life — and the family's whole world.
She was cutting the grass with a riding lawnmower at the family's previous home in Cecil with then 4-year-old Isaiah on her lap. All of a sudden the mower hit a bump, Isaiah fell off, and the blades caught his little hand.
His injuries required amputation of his hand.
"In that moment you think your child is going to die," she said. "I remember running and screaming for a neighbor to call 911 ... We had rode the lawnmower together before and you just never think something like that is going to happen."
At first, Lisa Lanphear was reluctant to talk about the specifics of the horrific accident. However, she said she would share, in heartbreaking honesty, if their story could help serve as a cautionary tale to parents about the dangers of riding lawnmowers around small children.
"Riding on a mower with your kid might be fun, it might look cute, but it's not," she said. "It's just not worth it."
For a while, Isaiah didn't want to tell people about how he lost his hand either — and Lisa Lanphear and Isaiah's father Joe Lanphear were OK with that.
Isaiah and his mom giggled as they described how it was understood that he could tell people his hand got bitten off by a shark or a bear if he wanted to. It was his story to tell.
"Those stories certainly sound a lot cooler," Lisa Lanphear said laughing. "You have to find humor where you can in this world."
About a year ago, Isaiah started feeling more comfortable with the truth, thanks in part to a camp run by the NubAbility Athletics Foundation, which specializes in sports programs for congenital and traumatic amputees.
Being surrounded by other people with missing limbs, allowed her son to come out of his shell, Lisa said.
"No one there stares and no one asks questions," Isaiah said, adding that the camp helped him realize he could chase his dream of becoming a professional baseball player when he grows up.
It was at the camp that an instructor also taught Isaiah the motto he now lives by: "No excuses." The saying, Isaiah said, has not only motivated him to keep going, but has also created a drive within himself to help others who have lost a limb.
Isaiah started his own YouTube channel. His videos provide a look at how he does things such as play video games and tie his shoes.
The goal is that the channel gives hope to other amputees, and also creates a general awareness of the limb-different community.
"I just like helping people," he said.
Juelich recalls the day she recognized Isaiah's positive attitude in her classroom.
Students were singing the national anthem, and when all of his classmates placed their right hand over their heart, Isiah stood tall, put both arms behind his back, and said, "This is how I do it."
She said his proud reaction perfectly shows that what unites all people is, actually, that no two people are the same, and that should be celebrated.
She said that has been on full display since Isaiah's recorder adapter arrived — all of the other students think it's so cool, they want one, too.
Lisa Lanphear said the importance of inclusion is a message her family hopes is recognized by others going forward, as well as the realization that those who are different, are really just like everyone else.
"We're all different in some way," she said. "And different is good."
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Green Bay Press-Gazette.