Wounded Warriors on the Diamond in Washington DC
June 2011 Issue
The first-of-its-kind Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team (WWAST) crushed the able-bodied Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) All Stars (35-10) Friday, May 6, in the first of three exhibition games held in Washington DC. The brainchild of General Manager David Van Sleet, a prosthetics program manager with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the dream team, which includes 20 amputee soldier and veteran athletes, was borne of his six-month mission to find the most active, competitive, experienced ball players the U.S. military had to offer. Culled from more than 200 applicants, the team aims to strengthen rehabilitation program efforts offered through the VA, allowing disabled athletes a venue for high-stakes competition in their sport of choice.
"They were looking for something at that level that...involved...a team sport," Van Sleet explained. "When they heard it was going to be [composed of] amputees, they really bought into the process."
Players arrived in March for spring training at the University of Arizona, Tucson. They all had baseball or softball experience at the high school level, college level, or both, and Van Sleet said they had never played the sport wearing prostheses. Also, two active-duty soldiers on the team are still undergoing rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), Washington DC. Despite these challenges, the players quickly galvanized as a team.
"The camaraderie alone has elevated their spirits to the next level," Van Sleet said. In Tucson, players brought spare "body parts" (now the team's self-appointed nickname, according to The Washington Post), and chose the best prosthetic device for their positions within the first few days. Melissa Stockwell, CP, a former Paralympian and the first woman soldier to lose a limb in the Iraq War, assisted the athletes with fittings and modifications in Tucson.
Exhibition games with the WRAMC clinical staff and the U.S. Naval Academy's varsity sailing team, Annapolis, Maryland, followed on Saturday, May 7, and Sunday, May 8, respectively.
Talks are under way to bring the WWAST to Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky, home to the Cincinnati Reds' Triple-A team. Additional future plans include a match against the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and a game against a combined New York City Police and Fire Department team to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. All games will be played against able-bodied teams.
"I really think we are going to show the country that these guys got injured, had a limb amputated, were rehabilitated, and can now do a remarkable, skilled, physical activity," Van Sleet said. "We have some real power."