Often, serendipity plays a pivotal role in the development of great ideas and ventures. Such is the case with the early beginnings of the nonprofit organization, the American Amputee Soccer Association (AASA), located in Wilmington, Del.
In 1980, an amputee named Don Bennett, was walking to his car from his home in Seattle and noticed a basketball rolling down the driveway from his garage. Instead of calling his children to get the ball, he simply lifted up his crutches and kicked the ball back into the garage. This simple act was the beginning of the worldwide sport of soccer for amputees with teams in more than 25 countries.
Love of the game
“This game evolved over the years by people who loved the sport showing other people how to play,” said Rick Hofmann, executive director of AASA. “It really began as a rehab and conditioning activity and has progressed into the fastest one-legged game in the world.”
Hofmann, a right transfemoral amputee due to a motorcycle accident in 1995, did not know at the time how to remain active with his amputation. In 1997, he was invited to a clinic on amputee soccer, which he was not particularly interested in attending, but he went anyway. The speaker took off his prosthesis and began to kick the ball back and forth among the attendees while he was on his crutches.
“We did some drills and scrimmages and I quickly began to think like a soccer player instead of an amputee,” Hofmann said. “I have been in love with the game ever since.”
The game holds a World Cup every 2 years with the next international championship being held in Antalya, Turkey in November. The world governing body is the World Amputee Football Federation based in England, which sanctions and organizes international events.
Goals and mission
The AASA is primarily centered in Philadelphia, Seattle and Los Angeles. Hofmann and his colleagues are working to develop teams in Texas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Florida and elsewhere around the country. Currently, there are more than 200 people on the players list in the United States. Matches and tournaments are organized and played locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
Mission of the organization
According to the AASA Web site, the mission of the organization is:
- To promote social interactivity, self-esteem and self-confidence among adult, and especially among new and youthful amputees, through recreational and competitive amputee soccer programs.
- To identify, develop and train athletes to represent the United States in elite international amputee soccer competition, and in Paralympic competition when the sport achieves the status.
The rules of amputee soccer are unique. According to Hofmann, the game must be played on metal crutches. Wooden crutches are not permitted as they might splinter or break. Prostheses are not allowed on the playing field for logical and legitimate reasons – they are expensive and can break; players from developing countries cannot afford them and transtibial amputees wearing prostheses have more speed and mobility, and therefore, have an advantage over transfemoral amputees.
Additionally, players must be “abbreviated” at the wrist or ankle. Outfielders may have only one leg; goalkeepers may have only one arm. To keep the playing field level, no one is allowed to use his or her residual limb to control or direct the ball.
“Because, for instance, if one player is off at the ankle and another player is a hip disarticulate, the one missing a foot obviously has an advantage in controlling the ball with the residual limb,” Hofmann said.
People with congenital nonfunctional limbs may also play.
According to Hofmann, the major challenge for players is that of any other athlete: conditioning. They have to be able to run fast, pass the ball accurately and know how to move not only forward, backward, side to side and at an angle, but they also have to learn the tactics of the game. Moreover, some players have to learn to kick with their nondominant leg, as well as learning how to control the ball with both sides of the same foot.
“But it is mostly developing the stamina to play the game,” Hofmann said.
Access for everyone
The game is open to people of all ages, backgrounds and genders. It is also inexpensive to join. All a player needs is a pair of crutches, a shoe, a sock, shirt, shorts and a shin guard, Hofmann said. No experience is necessary to join.
“If the amputee can stand on crutches and kick a ball, he or she can play,” he added.
If there are not enough players in a local area, able-bodied people can fill in. These players must put an arm inside their jersey throughout the game if they are keepers. Outfielders must take off one shoe, play on forearm crutches and cannot put the shoeless foot down during play.
For amputees, just the experience of aerobic activity is incredibly exhilarating, Hofmann said.
“Just to be able to sweat again is a revelation for many of these players,” he said. “It makes them feel alive again.”
Being able to participate in this game facilitates the vital aspects of community, friendship, camaraderie and competitive spirit.
“Some people in every day life look at you because you are missing a part,” Hofmann said. “But now you are playing with people who are exactly the same configuration you are. Some of the greatest times I have had have been going out with the guys to the tavern after a game.”
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Rachel Kelley is a staff writer for O&P Business News.