B.C. Lions linebacker Adam Bighill, who was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, has turned his facial defect into a strength — and he believes he can help others do the same. Bighill, 27, a five-year CFL veteran, has joined the board of Making Faces, a Toronto-based charity dedicated to helping others cope with facial differences.
“I want to show kids how I did everything I wanted to do despite any limitations people may have put on me from the day I was born,” Bighill said. Growing up in small-town Montesano, Wash., Bighill was ashamed of his face. Other children made fun of him.
One day, he asked his dad why he was born this way, and his dad gave him an answer that would change his life. “God gave you this challenge, but He gave you extreme athletic ability,” his dad said. Bighill began to believe he was special.
Bighill also got a chip on his shoulder, settled some scores with bullies, and developed a competitive attitude. “I wanted to compete and prove I’m better than you,” Bighill explained. “It ended up giving me a lot of power. It was the driving force behind why I want to succeed.”
While he used physical gifts to excel, Bighill said each person has his or her own talents that can overcome facial challenges and labelling. “You’ve got to find what you’re passionate about,” he advises. “You’ve got to believe in that. You have to stand out somehow. That’s how you break through a shell.”
The linebacker was named the CFL’s top defensive player at the league’s awards banquet, receiving 46 of 75 first-place ballots in voting conducted by the Football Reporters.
Bighill, who became a first-time father this month, is the second straight Lion to capture the top defensive honour.
“Wow,” Bighill said. “The last five years I’ve been living my dream and I have to thank the B.C. Lions for that. For all young people, don’t let anyone determine what you can do . . . don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”
Bighill recorded a CFL- and career-high 117 tackles this season. The five-foot-10 230-pound linebacker also had four sacks, an interception and fumble recovery.
“They can measure your speed and size but they can’t measure your heart,” Bighill said.