Bryan Hoddle couldn't believe his eyes. In August 2001, Hoddle—a coach of world-class disabled athletes-was announcing the action at a paralympic track meet in Chula Vista, Calif. At the high jump he saw a tall, blond kid who had a prosthetic left leg from the knee down. Hoddle watched as the bar kept going up and up. He grabbed a wireless mike so he could keep announcing events as he got a closer look. "People were gathering around him as he went higher, and it didn't even faze him," Hoddle says. "He was just so focused. When the pressure's really on, the cream rises. Well, he rose."
That afternoon Jeff Skiba of Issaquah, Wash., tied the paralympic world record of 6'5�". For him, the height was nothing extraordinary. Though born without a fibula in his left leg, which was amputated below the knee just before his first birthday, he has competed successfully in several sports with able-bodied people. "I don't think of myself as disabled," the 6'3�", 162-pound Skiba says. "Things are a bit different for me, but I've gotten used to it."
Playing jayvee basketball at Skyline High, he discovered that he could jump higher than his teammates and even throw down a reverse dunk on an alley-oop. It seemed only natural to go out for the high jump. In May the 18-year-old Skiba entered the 3A state track meet as the top seed. "I felt it was mine to lose," he says. He didn't: He cleared 6'10" to beat the runner-up by four inches. In July, Skiba won a gold medal at the Paralympic World Championships in Lille, France, clearing a world record 2.09 meters (6'10�"). "Proving I could beat people with two legs at the state meet was a lot of fun," he says. "But winning gold in front of the whole world was a great experience as well."
Skiba has set his sights still higher. He will train with Hoddle in Olympia, Wash., while attending South Puget Sound Community College. He intends to be the first amputee to clear seven feet, and eventually to soar 7'4�", the height needed to qualify for the 2004 U.S. Olympic trials. Hoddle believes both goals are within reach. Says the coach, "It's a little scary what this guy can do."