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Wounded Warrior group raises awareness with softball game in Utica, NY

By GREG MASON | Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y. | Published: August 28, 2017

UTICA, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — At first, Nick Clark felt a bit self-conscious about how he looked walking around in public with only one leg.

The Cooperstown resident and retired U.S. Army corporal lost his left leg during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2007. His vehicle was hit as part of a mounted convoy that was ambushed by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Clark said he has since found more confidence while serving in a different uniform, wearing No. 13 for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team.

The team, which tours different parts of the country and has visited Utica before, was founded in 2010.

"Eventually, that stuff doesn't bother you as much," Clark said about public perception. "It helps that I'm around like 10 other guys like me."

Clark, 36, has been a part of the team since the beginning. Typically the lead-off hitter and left fielder, Clark was in the lineup Saturday as his squad took on three local teams formed from law enforcement and community members at Donovan Stadium at Murnane Field.

The Wounded Warrior team was scheduled for three five-inning games Saturday against squads representing the Oneida County Sheriff's Office, Adirondack Bank and local police and firefighters. The opening ceremonies additionally included honors for Gold Star families who lost loved ones in combat.

While softball was the setting for this weekend's festivities, Wounded Warrior staff and locals agree that the amputee team's mission goes beyond the game itself.

'To inspire and educate others'

Clark, whose military commendations include a Purple Heart, said there have been some challenges in adapting to his injury.

With the Wounded Warrior team, for example, Clark said he had to learn outfield after playing high school ball as an infielder. Running laterally and backward, in particular, took some getting used to, he said.

He said the team, nevertheless, has given him the sense that he is helping others, like other veterans and children, by showing that folks can still lead productive lives even after such an injury — and it feels good.

"It's really good therapy. None of us are in the military anymore, so it's almost kind of like we're back in the military for a day when we play games," Clark said. "We're able to put our squad, if you will, on the field kind of like how it would be in the Army or the Marines."

Dennis Wince, executive director of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, said there are 39 members on the team, though only 10 to 14 are typically brought to events. The squad also raises money for the organization's Kids Camp, where the team partakes in softball clinics with children with amputations or missing limbs.

Membership, he said, has allowed the veterans to learn from others in similar situations, which inspires a mindset that helps them remain active. It has also allowed them to "be a part of something that is bigger than themselves," Wince said.

"Our mission is to inspire and educate others and enhance the lives of Wounded Warrior amputees. We use softball as a vehicle to do so," he said. "Truthfully, our message could be different for a different number of people, whether you're a veteran, an amputee or even if you're having a bad day."

'Life without limbs is limitless'

This year's games were organized and coordinated by Cheryl Jassak of the Sitrin Health Care Center.

The Wounded Warrior softball program, she said, fits in with Sitrin's commitment to treating post-9/11 veterans free of charge. Jassak said the capabilities of the Wounded Warrior softball veterans well represent the team's motto: "Life without limbs is limitless."

"There's no limit to what these guys can do in life," she said.

Representing many on the Sheriff's Office team Saturday, Luis Roman — president of the Oneida County Deputy Sheriff's Employees Local 1249 — said in his opening ceremony remarks that the festivities were all about "heroes."

Roman said the games show the importance of supporting military veterans who cope with both physical and mental issues. It's a mindset, he said, that seems more apparent now than in the past.

"It shows that everybody can overcome adversity," Roman said. "There's no excuse for people running away from a fight."

©2017 Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y.
Visit Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y. at www.uticaod.com
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In a Jan. 11, 2013 file photo, Nick Clark takes a swing during a Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team exhibition game against Hawaii celebrities at Central Oahu Regional Park, Waipahu, Hawaii.
MIKE MEARES/U.S. AIR FORCE

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