LOUISVILLE, Ky. —
Thomasville’s Steven Kazemekas was one of the 20 children from across America selected to participate in the Wounded Warrior amputee softball team’s second annual Kids Camp. All the children selected have amputations or are missing limbs.
The camp was held in Louisville, Ky., and culminated with a game between the kids at Louisville Slugger Field, the 13,000-seat home of the Louisville Bats, the Cincinnati Reds’ Triple-A affiliate, on June 13.
Kazemekas and the other kids were coached by members of the Wounded Warrior amputee softball team (WWAST), all veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars who have amputations but have faced and conquered their challenges to athletically compete at a high level.
The veterans served as an inspiration to all who saw them play and inspired the children.
“Since we started touring in 2011, we’ve been inviting young, local amputees to serve as batboys and bat girls at our games across the country,” said WWAST coach David Van Sleet. “You wouldn’t believe the positive impact a single game can make on them. To have a full five days to work with and inspire these kids — kids who are at such an impressionable age — is one of the most amazing opportunities we could have asked for.”
The camp consisted of daily clinics during which WWAST players and coaches taught the kids all aspects of softball, including hitting, running and catching, to team-play and sportsmanship. While the clinics covered basics, these are no ordinary lessons.
“Suffering a life-altering injury is traumatic and scary, there’s no doubt about that,” added Van Sleet. “But it’s our mission to show people that life altering doesn’t have to mean life ending. It’s still possible to follow your passions after an injury. You just have to take a different approach. And that’s what out guys are here to teach these kids.”
By “different approach,” Van Sleet alluded to his team’s unique style of play, a creation adaptation the wounded veterans had to make in order to continue playing softball.
Campers learned from seasoned WWAST players like Greg Reynolds, a left-armed amputee who has learned how to catch a pop fly one handed, toss off his glove and throw the ball home in one fluid motion, or from Josh Wege, a double-amputee who can chase a grounder on two prosthetic legs.
The WWAST Kids Camp idea came from Susan Rodio, a longtime WWAST volunteer. Rodio noticed what a positive influence the team had on young amputees and decided to take it a step further.
“It just seemed like a natural fit to further our mission of educating and inspiring the public,” said Rodio. “What better group to inspire than these kids who face some of the same challenged as our players.
Another plus we discovered in the first year of our camp was the way the kids and their families all bonded with each other. They had so much in common because of the obstacles they have faced. It was heartwarming to witness as they realized they are not alone.”
In addition to softball instruction, the kids and their families visited the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory and Churchill Downs — the home of the Kentucky Derby — as well as other Louisville attractions like the Muhammad Ali Center and Kentucky Kingdom. The kids also watched the WWAST play two softball games.
“Life without a limb is limitless. That’s out motto,” said Van Sleet. “Thanks to these incredible veterans, our sponsors and our fans, we’ve been able to spread that message for a little over three years now.”
The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Camp is a charitable organization whose mission is to raise awareness, educate and inspire the public about the strength and resiliency of America’s wounded warriors.
WWAST travels the country playing able-bodied softball teams and is sponsored by Louisville Slugger, Ossur, Armed Forced Foundation and United States Specialty Sports Association, along with other major corporations.
For more information about WWAST and its Kids Camp, visit www.thewwast.org.