For three Army veterans, their deployment in Afghanistan threw them a curve ball they never expected.
The three each lost a foot or part of a leg while serving their country.
Now they’re using their loss to help others gain the confidence to overcome any challenge, in sports or in life.
The three members of the national Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team visited with 9-year-old fellow amputee Aiden Thompson at Akron Children’s Hospital on Thursday.
The team is in town for charity games Saturday against Akron firefighters and the Akron Racers at Firestone Stadium.
Ohio native Cody Rice, 29, said the team has a motto they like to share: “Life without a limb is limitless.”
Rice, who now lives in California, lost his right foot in August 2012 when it was struck by a launched grenade.
He decided to join the team last year after being inspired by a picture of the players on Instagram.
The team includes 27 veterans and military members from the across the country ranging in age from 23 to 53. The athletes play 100 or more charity slow-pitch games nationwide each year against able-bodied teams.
A portion of the money raised from the games supports annual children’s camps for amputees the team holds in different locations, said the team’s founder, David Van Sleet.
Project Summit, the local nonprofit group that helped organize this weekend’s event, is trying to bring a camp to the region.
Rice said he enjoys the camaraderie of his teammates and the chance to meet with young patients like Aiden.
Aiden, who lives in Poland in Mahoning County, had his left leg amputated below the knee when he was 13 months old after being born with a foot that didn’t develop properly.
“No matter what he wants to do, he can accomplish it,” Rice said. “Whether it’s sports or education, he can get it.”
“We are no less capable than the next person,” agreed teammate Lonnie Gaudet, 30, of Wayland, N.Y.
Gaudet lost his leg below the knee after stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan in March 2011. He joined the softball team three years later.
“It’s really nice to see the difference we make,” he said.
So far, Aiden hasn’t let his prosthesis slow him down, said his mom, Amy Thompson. Unless he’s wearing shorts, most people who watch him play sports don’t even realize he’s missing part of his leg.
In fact, he recently was selected to play in his baseball league’s upcoming all-star game.
“As soon as he could play sports, he was playing sports,” she said. “He’s my sports guy.”
This fall, he wants to play tackle football.
“I’d be more worried about his head than his leg,” said his physician, Dr. Kerwyn Jones, chairman of the orthopedics department at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Jones said seeing members of the Wounded Warrior Softball Team can help worried parents, who often are concerned about the impact an amputation will have on their children’s lives.
“Playing ball is a lot of fun,” said team member Matt Kinsey, 30, of New Albany, Ind. “Impacting the community and changing people’s lives is really what’s important.”
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/CherylPowellABJ.