Amputation Doesn’t Derail Soccer Dream

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By Tami Jayne Jackson
Thomas Feller receives gifts from Russian students as he visits their classroom.
Thomas Feller receives gifts from Russian students as he visits their classroom.

Thomas Feller has had a love affair with soccer going back to his younger days. His love of the sport took him to three state championships with his youth soccer team-and his dream was to play professionally.

An auto accident in 1973 caused the loss of his left leg below the knee-but this setback did not derail his dream. It simply set it off in another direction.

Now, 29 years later, Feller is president of the International Amputee Football Federation (IAFF) and president of the United States Amputee Soccer. Feller has also been the US National Soccer Team coach for amputees. He has thus realized his dream to play soccer in Europe, since he has played in England, Russia, and Ukraine, as well as in Brazil, Uzbekistan, and Canada.

"Amputee Soccer is just as fast, just as furious, and just as competitive as regular soccer," he says. "Maybe even more so, because amputee players have more to prove to themselves-that they play the game for real."

Feller also enjoys skiing and hiking. In 1994, Feller placed third overall in the US Nationals, having won national medals and cups. He is now the race coach for SKIFORALL, a Northwest adaptive ski program in Washington state.

Feller's passion for sports for amputees is clear. Not only does he host clinics all across the nation to teach amputee soccer, but he also visits children's hospitals for amputee outreach.

Prosthetics Research

Feller has been involved in research and development of prosthetics since the early 1980s. An account representative with Seattle Systems, Poulsbo, Washington, he also tests the company's products by wearing them, pushing them to the limit in order to give performance feedback to company engineers. In fact, he was one of the original "test pilots" for the Seattle Foot.

Feller has been both a student and an object of study. He has taken five years of engineering classes from Shoreline, Everett, and Pierce colleges. He has volunteered as a test patient for research organizations, including the University of Washington and Prosthetic Research Studies, as well as Seattle Systems.

Many of these tests were grueling. He would run on a treadmill for extended periods of time while researchers tested the performance levels of various products. Also, as part of the treadmill tests, Feller has been asked to exhale into weather balloons in order for test administrators to measure how much oxygen he exhaled while wearing different prostheses. Some tests required Feller to climb up and down stairs or hop on one foot, alternating his sound leg with the prosthesis. "It's all in the name of science," Feller said. "I volunteer for the betterment of prosthetics and to benefit other amputees."

A "Renaissance man," Feller also has won national awards for print media publications, including most improved cover design, best cover design and best cover photography.

Amputee Soccer: A Global Family

Amputee football is a family-a global family," says Thomas Feller, president of the International Amputee Football Federation (IAFF) and the United States Amputee Soccer.

Feller enjoys traveling to other countries, experiencing other customs and the joy of friendship through the sport. "If you take a football with you, you will always be able to find friends," he says. One newspaper has even called Feller, the "Johnny Appleseed of amputee soccer."

"Everywhere I travel, I try to spread some goodwill-visiting children in hospitals, orphanages, and schools," he says. "Where it is makes no difference-North America, South America, Asia-children are children wherever you go."

Feller is very excited about a project he is working on in Russia. Construction is starting in March on the largest adaptive sports center in the world, which will be located just outside Moscow. Designed in the shape of an archer's bow, the center will have indoor and outdoor football (soccer) fields and will be wheelchair accessible.

"It is a goal of mine to see a training center in the USA," Feller added. "Amputee football is such a fast and competitive sport. There is no disability in this sport-only ability."

For more information, contact Thomas Feller at tfeller@amputeesoccer.org or visit www.amputeesoccer.org.