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Making a Difference

Home Run: Kid Amputees Play Ball With Wounded Warriors

At the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team’s Kids Camp, one week each summer 20 children get the chance to feel like stars. They are selected from across the country for a special opportunity –- a chance to connect with other children and mentors with whom they share a common bond.

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These children are all amputees, missing arms or legs. Some were born without limbs, and others lost them due to trauma. Their camp coaches, all of whom are part of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, have also learned to cope without limbs –- most were injured while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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This summer, the wounded warriors coached 10-year-old Adrian Grajeda. And now he can hit, throw, and field grounders better than ever before. But Adrian, who lost his leg less than a year ago after a car accident, said they showed him much more than that.

“It’s cool because you don’t feel alone,” he said. “And they can teach you stuff that you don’t know.”

Along with their families and coaches, the children gathered for camp in Louisville, Kentucky, earlier this month. In addition to daily practices and scrimmages at the ballpark, they went on field trips to local sites like Churchill Downs and the Louisville Slugger factory.

Jace Ethridge, 9, hits the ball. Kim Berry

Jonathan Sheridan said his 10-year-old daughter Marley Sheridan told him that camp was changing her life for the better.

“It’s much more than softball,” he said. “And so hopefully she’s gotten better at softball, obviously, but hopefully it’s better for her heart, you know?”

Susan Rodio started the camp one year ago in Orlando, Florida. After volunteering with the Wounded Warrior Softball Team, she saw what an impact the players were having on children with amputations who were assisting the team as bat boys and bat girls. She wanted to create a camp where that impact could go even further.

“The satisfaction of knowing that you may have touched somebody’s life, you know, and make them feel better about themselves; I mean, there’s just nothing better,” she said.

On the last day of camp, the children got to put their new skills to the test on a real minor league field. They got to stand at home plate and run the bases usually reserved for the pros. After the game, 9-year-old Jen Castro said she would have great stories for her friends when she got home.

“I learned how to do everything better,” she said. “I learned how to have courage in life and not to just give up on anything.”

Justin Feagin, who lost his leg in 2010 to an IED in Afghanistan, said he hoped he and the other wounded warriors left the children with a few simple words to remember.

“Our team motto is ‘Life without a limb is limitless,’ and so I hope they take that back with them,” he said.

Jen Castro, 9, hits the ball. Kim Berry