Members of a Haitian amputee soccer team were in Washington this week to conduct clinics for wounded American troops from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It was the Haitians' way of saying thank you to the U.S. military for providing assistance to Haiti after the devastating earthquake last year.
It’s called the Haitian Inspiration Tour, and nearly all members of the "Team Zaryen" soccer team lost limbs in the 2010 earthquake. The team's visit is being co-sponsored by a U.S. service group, the Knights of Columbus.
Pat Korten is the group's spokesman and told VOA about the impact the team is having.
"Many of them were playing soccer before the earthquake, before they lost their limbs. Now they're relearning how to do that, and showing everybody in Haiti," Korten explained. "This is a big deal in Haiti. Everybody's watching. Everybody knows about this in Haiti. These guys are ambassadors to the United States this week and everybody is really happy about that."
Life goes on
Team Zaryen’s founder and captain is Wilfried Macena, 27, who lost his right leg in the earthquake.
“I did not know if I could play soccer anymore when I got physical therapy by Medishare hospital in Haiti, and I felt very confident and used my crutches very well and I saw I could play soccer again,” Macena said.
Zaryen is the Creole word for tarantula and Macena explained the team's special jersey logo.
“One side has four legs. The other side has three legs. That means if that spider [tarantula] lost one leg, his life still continues. You can do everything like you have two legs," he explained.
It was clear the Haitian soccer players are skilled, as they demonstrated a number of drills for the amputees in the U.S. military.
Bradley Ritland, the head of physical therapy for amputees at the Walter Reed Medical Center outside Washington, said it was inspiring.
“It’s been an outstanding experience for their team as well as our guys," Ritland said. "I think a lot of our guys see the positive outlook on the patients from Haiti, and see how they’re dealing with their injuries and how through sport they’re able to maintain a positive outlook.”
The Haitian team played an exhibition game here in Washington against the U.S. national amputee soccer team. For all matches, prosthetics are removed and left on the sideline. Players use their one good leg and their crutches to move the ball. Goalkeepers have both legs but only one arm.
Army First Lieutenant Cameron Kerr, who lost part of his left leg in Afghanistan early this year when he stepped on an explosive device (IED), said he played soccer when he was younger and now has a newfound love for the game.
"Especially in those first few months of recovery you come back from Afghanistan, you’re missing a leg or two, or like an arm and two legs, you just don’t know what life is going to hold for you in the future," Kerr said. "So this is pretty critical, events like this, and adaptive sports like this are instrumental in helping us see what’s possible, and then helping us get there too. So not only seeing that it’s an option, but really helping us in terms of the training, and the actual fun of playing soccer again."
Kerr added that he and other amputees have to get used to what they call the new normal - that is, realizing that their legs are not going to grow back, and they need to keep pushing ahead and making the best of it.