I’m the oldest of five boys, something I am incredibly thankful for. Learning how to be the oldest is a long and sometimes frustrating process, but those that stick it out and allow themselves to learn through the ups and the downs are so much better off in the end.

The oldest always gets blamed for everything whether they’re responsible for it or not, which is hard in the moment but ultimately teaches you that you are, in fact, responsible for your siblings. I have natural instincts to lead and protect my brothers, and I try to be something of a role model for them to look up to.

But the struggles of learning how to handle being the oldest pale in comparison to what my youngest brother, Luke, has dealt with in his young life.

I can’t imagine what it’s like being the youngest of five boys, but that’s far from the toughest thing Luke has faced. You see, Luke was born without a fibula in one of his legs.

A short anatomy reminder: No fibula means there’s just the tibia in the lower leg. The main knee ligaments (such as the ACL) attach the tibia and the fibula, so the lack of a fibula results in a lack of the ligaments responsible for the knee and the muscles that make up the calf.

My parents had two options: Do nothing, let Luke grow up with the body he was given, and his leg without a fibula would ultimately be several inches shorter than the other one when he was fully grown. He’d have to wear a large lift on one of his shoes, and he wouldn’t be able to walk around normally without shoes on.

The other option: Invest in a long series of surgeries to lengthen Luke’s shorter leg so that, when fully mature, the difference in the two legs would be only centimeters.

They chose the latter.

The surgeries started when Luke was little, and they continued for more than 10 years. Sometimes, they broke his tibia and inserted a plate. Sometimes, they cut his femur and did the same. Several times, they attached a fixator, which left multiple exposed spots on his leg that had to be thoroughly cleaned every single day. Every night, my parents would turn the key for the fixator and it would stretch his bone by just a portion of a centimeter.

But just that portion of a centimeter was incredibly painful, and cleaning the wounds was no walk in the park. I watched Luke use his walker and crutches to get around with a giant fixator on his leg for months and no way to hide it. He was forced to miss basketball seasons, something that devastated my parents as much as it did Luke.

Luke could have been a prisoner to his own body, allowing his perceived defect to control his life and become his reality. He could have complained, cried, cursed at God for making him this way. He could have allowed his disability to win, to condemn him to a life in a wheelchair and on a couch.

Nobody would have blamed him. What Luke faced in the most vulnerable years of his life would frighten anyone. It frightened me as his older brother, and I wasn’t even the one who had to lie in the hospital bed over and over to help correct something I had been given.

I wondered if Luke’s ailment would give him a jaded view of the world and make him angry as he grew up. I thought he might feel sorry for himself and miss many of the joys of life.

I thought those things because those things would have happened to me in his situation. I would have asked, ‘Why me!?’ over and over again, and I would have been angry that I had to work 10 times harder than everyone else, every single day just to compete.

But Luke approached it in a much different way, one that I so greatly love but can never truly understand.

I’ve been around Luke all his life, and I’ve grown closer to him than I have to almost any other person in my life. Luke never complained. He never whined. He never felt sorry for himself. He never used his leg as an excuse for anything.

Instead, Luke approached each and every one of his countless surgeries with confidence. Confidence in the excellent doctors to take care of him. Confidence in his parents for making the decision they did. Confidence in God’s plan for his life.

I’ve watched Luke fight every day of his life, most of those days with a big smile on his face. He shares my intense competitiveness and love for sports, and one day, he’ll be much better than me at analyzing them. He’s the best in his age group at everything he does, and every time he runs out on the basketball court, he does so with the strength, perseverance and love that we all aspire to live our lives with.

Luke was dealt an impossible hand. Not only did he have to put up with the bullying of four older brothers, he had to overcome many other obstacles. But if you saw him today, you’d never know it.

When people talk to me about Luke, they don’t say things like, ‘Oh, it’s great to see what he’s doing with his bad leg.’ They don’t say, ‘Awh, it’s so cute to see him out there playing.’

When people talk to me about Luke, they talk about his dominant 20 points in a basketball game or his straight A’s in the classroom. They talk about his infectious personality. His leg never comes up because Luke has never allowed his leg to hold him back.

Luke has grown to be an angelic, God-like figure in my life, a person that reminds me everything that is good about life and how good I have it.

Luke is the strongest young man I have ever known, and I doubt that will ever change. He can touch your heart in ways that few people can, and he does it by being himself.

The world saw Luke’s leg as a defect. Luke saw it as a challenge, and he conquered that challenge with remarkable eloquence.

Luke is my little brother and my friend, but he is also a role model and inspiration to me. I feel so incredibly lucky and blessed to have him as a little brother, and I pray he can be an inspiration to others facing a variety of ailments perceived as others to be disabilities.

They are only disabilities if you allow them to keep you from doing what you want to do. Luke doesn’t have a disability — he conquered that a long time ago.