As someone who is missing a limb, you’ll have to take my word for it that when you’re part of an amputee gathering, there’s a connection driven by shared experience. At my first such event, the 2002 Amputee Coalition Conference, people come to a hotel in Anaheim to share. They sat and told their stories. They expressed their fears and weaknesses. Tears were shed.
The softball game against the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team clearly was not going to be that kind of event.
This time, my limbless peers wear camouflage jerseys. They have all become amputees in a foreign country, far from their families and homes. Even though I lost my leg in a traumatic accident, I don’t see things ending up with all of us in a circle, holding hands, and weeping.
The WWAST Coach, David Van Sleet sets the tone at the opening ceremonies of Össur’s 2012 National Sales Meeting: “We’re here to have fun. [Long pause] But my guys like to win.” His team coyly grins while standing in a row behind him on the stage, and laughter spreads through the audience. That, in a nutshell, captures the essence of the WWAST: they’ll have fun, but they’ll also try to kick your ass. Their target this week is a team made up of Össur employees, a group whose biggest handicap is, as I will prove repeatedly throughout the game, me.
The game remains close until the middle innings, the biggest hit of the night coming off the bat of Jason Thorne, who smacks a grand slam that gives Össur the lead for good. Later, a bang-bang play at first with two outs goes our way, and from there a combination of hard hit balls and errors result in us blowing things open.
I have done nothing to contribute to the lead, going 0-4, the last out a rocket snared by the pitcher, Tom Carlo. I have also failed to scoop a low throw out of the dirt while playing first base, leading to few extra runs for the WWAST.
I spend the bottom of the seventh watching from the bench as the final half inning plays out.
“This is a great night, isn’t it?” I ask.
A friend of mine looks at me with a somewhat pained expression on his face. “But they’re supposed to win,” he says plaintively.
I’m surprised by his answer, because that thought hasn’t even occurred to me as the game has played out. I respond, “Trust me, they didn’t come out here for us to let them win.” I find my reaction telling.
In the bottom of the 7th, Brian Taylor Urruela of the WWAST launches a blast arcing over the mock Green Monster wall like a neon tracer. His arm goes up as he jogs towards first, knowing what he has accomplished before the ball has even left the park.
I find myself with the rest of the players in our dugout, jumping up and down near home plate as Urruela circles the bases. He hits home plate while his teammates mob him like he has hit a walk-off shot, even though the WWAST still trails. It doesn’t matter. I stand behind the circle of camouflaged players, grinning stupidly from ear to ear.
I suddenly realize that Van Sleet had it right.
I turn the improbability over and over again in my mind. I’m only on the field because I walked into a road at midnight 15 years ago and woke up two days later in a hospital without my left leg. I’m now lucky enough to work for Össur, the company whose motto is “Life Without Limitations.” I’m playing softball against a team of amputees. And that team, made up of members of the Army and Marines, is barnstorming across the country every weekend, teaching people how to have fun. And they’re doing that while trying to kick able-bodied America’s ass.
I wonder why that makes me feel so normal.
- Dave McGill -