Grease covers Jose Villa’s bare feet as he lies on his back under an ’85 Dodge pickup truck. He is in the process of removing an engine block from the chassis. One by one the screws holding the engine in place are removed. The screwdriver between his toes twists until the engine block is free.
The tedious work in the sweltering Texas sun doesn’t bother him.
Villa was born with a heart condition and without arms. He uses his feet, without any extra equipment, for just about everything — writing, driving, cooking, eating and his favorite hobby, mechanical work.
“Working on cars is in my blood,” Villa said. “My father and I share a passion for cars.”
Villa has always been mechanically inclined. He began reassembling toy trucks at the age of 2. His father, Jose Villa, Sr. said by age 5, Villa was replacing brake pads on the neighbors’ cars.
Villa began honing his skills 10 years later, in an auto-mechanic class at San Marcos High School. His teacher, Bob Warren, developed a lifelong friendship with Villa through their common interests in automobiles.
Warren, now retired, said he used Villa's work ethic and will power as an example for other students in the class.
“I would say ‘Look at Jose, he is doing twice as much as you with his feet,’” Warren said.
Warren said Villa’s character surpasses his mechanical abilities.
“He is a polite, smart, motivated person,” Warren said. “If there was ever a more deserving human being, I haven’t met them.”
Villa attributes his character to his father.
“I’ve always told my son nothing is impossible, that he can do anything,” Villa, Sr. said.
Villa manages his daily routine with ease, despite not having arms.
Villa sits at a computer desk with a keyboard on the ground at his feet. He is sending an e-mail to an English tutor. Using all 10 toes to type, the e-mail is sent in about five minutes. When a computer isn’t availabl, Villa writes, in cursive or print, with his right foot.
On Monday mornings, Villa strolls to the driveway and opens the car door with his toes and gets in. He grabs the seatbelt, swivels his hips and buckles it. Villa backs out of the driveway without a problem and heads down I-35 towards Austin Community College.
Villa enjoys life as a college student, but has encountered many speed bumps along the way.
The Tenancingo, Mexico native attempted to enroll in school at age 6, but was denied by teachers because they saw his disability as a hindrance.
“They said he wouldn’t be able to learn like the other kids,” Villa, Sr. said.
Villa’s heart problems became severe when he was 8 years old.
Villa, Sr. said it was apparent his son needed surgery to survive. The procedure was not available in Mexico, so his family traveled to Salt Lake City. The surgery was successful and Villa began attending public school there.
Villa needed another surgery two years later, this time for his back. His family then moved to Texas and Villa underwent another successful procedure.
Villa’s mechanical hobby began to take a toll on his body by high school. Villa’s counselor suggested he change his career path to something requiring less physical labor.
“I wanted my son to get an education, because I didn’t want him to have to do hard work like me his whole life,” Villa, Sr. said.
Villa began attending ACC to study Computer Information Technology in 2002 upon graduating high school. He has since received a bachelor’s certificate.
Villa said the desire to help people is what attracted him to becoming a motivational speaker. Villa has spoken to students in Mexico and Gary Job Corps in San Marcos. Villa said he hopes to continue travelling to schools to speak with kids.
“When I speak, I tell the kids ‘Si yo lo puedo hacer tu lo puedes hacer, if I can do it, you can do it.’” Villa said. “I encourage them to stay in school and get an education. Nothing is impossible.”