The vital home leg | Freetown players find support for game efforts

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Members of the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club in postgame celebration. (Prosthetics Outreach Foundation)

Freetown, Sierra Leone | The physical prowess of amputee footballers shows clearly in the pictures and text supplied by Robyn Dixon in last Friday’s Los Angeles Times. The victims of atrocities or other injuries incurred during a 10-year civil war, members of the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club must shed prostheses before taking the field and confront the handicap as well as the prejudices of the able-bodied.

[W]hen the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club competes, people are dazzled by the speed and energy of the game and by the skill of the players. … The players’ faces seem to show double the pain and effort of the able-bodied players who have used the soccer field a few minutes earlier.

One amputee player tumbles so hard he ends up on his head, then crashes down into the dust, face clenched in agony. Another falls and loses his wooden crutch but struggles up with angry determination, hops after the ball and somehow, as graceful as a ballet master, kicks it without the crutch.

Support comes from Seattle nurse Dee Malchow and the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation. “I’m overwhelmed watching it,” says Malchow, herself an amputee. ”It almost brings tears to your eyes watching them.” 

The club’s inspiring origins previously have featured on WBUR of Boston’s Only a Game (see 29 Nov 05) and on the website of the American Amputee Soccer Association. A Freetown side has traveled to the U.K. and Brazil; the World Amputee Football Federation now has endorsed Sierra Leone to host a pan-African amputee tournament in October. The club, however, is broke and, without government assistance, must come up with $300,000 to bring the tournament to Freetown.

Founding club member Mohammed Lappid has been playing five years after having lost his dominant right foot. He and others find the same joys as they once did playing able-bodied soccer.

[W]hen I get the ball and play it, it’s the same. I cross it to my colleague. He passes and reaches the goal. If I or my friend gets a goal, I feel very happy. We hold onto our friends to celebrate.

Other sources: In the case of Mamusu Thoronka, 41, Roland Bankole Marke of Worldpress.org demonstrates that fierce discrimination still confronts many amputees in Sierra Leone (“No Compassion for Sierra Leone’s Amputees,” 29 Mar 07). “I cannot cook for myself,” says Mamusu. “I have to direct my daughter Bonki to do the cooking for me. When my children run into disagreements in school their peers tell them, ‘Your mother is a half-person.’ ”

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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