Child cheered by fellow amputees
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
HONOLULU — Running on prosthetic legs, double amputee Matias Ferreira tripped on his way to first base during a softball game Monday at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
His teammates made fun of him.
As she watched the game, 8-year-old Nina Bezzant found their ribbing amusing because she is missing a leg, her mother said.
“It made her day because she falls all the time and people are like, ‘Oh, are you OK? Are you OK?’” mom Julie Bezzant told Ferreira and five other players Wednesday during a team visit to Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children.
“We have always tried to treat her like a normal kid and like she can do all the things that everybody else does, and it’s really nice to see that that is true,” said Bezzant, who lives in Hawaii Kai.
That point was driven home by the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, all of whom play with some disability.
“To really see them doing that and excelling at it is so fantastic,” Bezzant said. “And they’re so sincere and so genuine. It’s great.”
The Bezzants had heard of the team through their doctor, so they made a point of attending the game Monday.
“To see the smile on her face and everything is pretty cool,” outfielder Nick Clark said of meeting Nina on Monday. “That’s really what’s keeping me going is to see how we’re reaching people and what we can do for other people.”
The players met with the Bezzants again, as well as other young patients and their families and some hospital staff Wednesday as part of their weeklong Oahu stay.
In the almost two years since the team came together, it has competed against able-bodied players in 44 cities in 18 states, said David P. Van Sleet, the team’s founder, general manager and head coach.
They leave Oahu on Saturday.
The team, a mix of Army and Marine Corps veterans, especially enjoys the outreach, education and charity work that has come from its newfound semi-celebrity status, Van Sleet said.
Clark, an Army veteran from Yakima, Wash., who lost his left leg below the knee in the summer of 2007 — a month and six days into his first deployment to Afghanistan — said he plans to start a foundation soon to provide grants for kids like Nina who need prosthetics.
Nina, who was born missing part of her left leg below the knee, wore a prosthesis until about two years ago, when it became too painful, her mother said. She underwent six or seven surgeries to reshape her stump in 2012 and has had about a dozen surgeries in all.
Clark said he was inspired by teammate Greg Reynolds, who lost his left collarbone, shoulder and arm in a motorcycle accident shortly before he was scheduled to begin a second 15-month deployment to Iraq. Reynolds said he started a separate organization last year called Making Lemonade to inspire people to make the best of life.
“This team actually gives us a chance to show everyone out there that despite whatever you face in your lifetime, that with the proper mind-set and determination, anything is possible,” said Reynolds, an Army veteran from Dighton, Mass. “It all comes back to, you know, there’s a lot of things in life outside of your control, but the one thing that we all can control is our attitudes. The attitudes of these guys on this team are so positive and upbeat. I mean, down days do exist, but they choose to find the positive; whereas (some) people when they have a bad day or they step in a puddle or if they spill their coffee, their day is ruined.”
The volunteer staff that supports the team is working on finding 24 children 9 to 12 years old to take a free weeklong trip to Disney World and participate in a sports camp for athletic kids who are amputees, Van Sleet said. He said he hopes the camp will spread the team’s motto, “Life without limbs is limitless,” and bring together kids of similar ages who can connect by sharing their mobility struggles but also their love of sports.
“Let’s be honest, some of these guys didn’t think they were going to live when they first experienced their injury and … they probably thought they never were going to walk, the leg amputees,” Van Sleet said. “And being former athletes and being in good shape … that was probably a big question on their mind: Were they ever going to be able to play on a competitive team sport again?”
Reynolds, whose motorcycle was hit by an elderly motorist, said doctors told his family at the hospital that he had a 1 in 2,000 chance of surviving because he was in a coma, he needed 101 units of blood products and his blood acidity level was too high to sustain life.
“Everything fell into place for my survival that day,” he said. “The ambulance was right around the corner. I was in the best physical and mental shape of my life, and I’m a fighter. … I was like, I did not survive all that stuff I did in Iraq to come home and get taken out.”
Nina, who entered the conference room at the hospital Wednesday wearing a hat with the team’s logo and rubber bracelets with the team’s name and motto, said her favorite part about meeting players such as Reynolds was hearing their stories.
After Monday’s game, she vowed to go to all of the team’s games this week, which have mostly been against military teams but will include a celebrity game at 7 p.m. Friday at Central Oahu Regional Park.
“It’s just cool how good they are,” Nina said.
Julie Bezzant said Nina has had a hard time putting down the signed game ball the team gave her on Monday.
“At night it’s right by her bed,” she said. “When she’s doing schoolwork, she’s holding it. And I keep telling her, ‘Be careful, you know, you don’t want to smear the signatures.’ … She just won’t let go of the ball; she’s so thrilled.”