"I want to inspire and lead by example," says Luke Ericson, 20, of Oahu

Credit: Andrew Rizer

For Luke Ericson, lifting a barbell once seemed impossible.

The CrossFit athlete was born without a left arm and with a left lung half the normal size. He also has scoliosis and was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. But that hasn’t stopped him from competing in three fitness competitions, most recently the Wodapalooza Fitness Festival in Miami, where he won the Male Adaptive Award.

“I felt very honored and grateful to have been a part of it,” Ericson, 20, tells PEOPLE. “This was the first time they offered an Adaptive division, in which men and women of all different abilities and conditions could compete head-to-head.”

Although Ericson first tried weight training in high school, it wasn’t until the last few years that he considered taking his passion to the next level.

“What sparked my urge to compete was the first time I used a barbell,” he says. “I had always used dumbbells for my workouts – the thought of using a barbell seemed impossible with only one arm. But that shortly became a challenge rather than a fact.”

He goes on to describe how he experimented with several popular CrossFit moves: “The day I completed my first back squat, deadlift and power clean was the day my fitness capabilities exploded. Within weeks my maxes doubled then tripled.”

That accomplishment – Ericson’s “lifting weights” are now a 225-lb. back squat and a 245-lb. deadlift – epitomizes the drive and will of the Oahu-based athlete.

“I want to motivate and inspire and lead by example,” he says. It’s one of the reasons he posts fitness-focused videos on his YouTube channel and is working on a documentary funded by a Kickstarter campaign. Felix Culpa: An Adaptive Athlete’s Journey to Competition – he says Felix Culpa means “happy fault” in Latin – is expected to be released at the end of the month.

“I’ve seen the effect that my story, and other adaptive athletes’ stories, can have on people’s lives and attitudes,” he writes on his Kickstarter page. “Every day I get messages and letters about how my story has inspired and encouraged others to push through their own barriers and get their lives back on track.”

As for what keeps him going despite the odds? “The constant challenge to better myself,” he says. “The people that have supported me and believed in me. The little kids that looked up to me and said, ‘I want to be just like you when I grow up.’ Never wanting to let them down is what drives me.”