Matias Ferreira tried out for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team about a year after he lost both his legs below the knee in Afghanistan.
Ferreira said that when he was doing therapy one day, he saw Joshua Wege, another player on WWAST, and Wege told him about the team. Ferreira said his first thoughts were “What are you going to be doing, playing softball in a wheelchair? How does this work?”
The players describe themselves as an all-male, slow pitch softball team of young veterans and active duty soldiers who have suffered an injury resulting in amputation while serving in the military/war and protecting our country.
WWAST will play a double header at Morgan Sports Center at 4200 Indian Bayou Trail in Destin on Nov. 3. At 2 p.m. the game will feature a match-up against military service members from Eglin AFB, Hurlburt Field and the 7thSpecial Forces followed by a 5 p.m. game against players from the host sponsor, InDyne. Both games are free and open to the public.
Ferreira was injured while on security patrol as a machine gunner in Afghanistan on Jan. 21, 2011. Ferreira said that he had to climb a 6-foot and an 11-foot platform to get to the roof of the building they were setting up equipment. He said that when he jumped down onto one of the platforms there was a 30-pound improvised explosive device hidden under the roof, which resulted in him losing both of his legs below the knee.
On the long road to recovery, Ferreira was tested at every turn.
“First, it was personal — I was trying to find myself and see physically what I could do,” said Ferreira on why he tried out for the team. He added that it’s also “to complete a personal goal to continue to play ball.”
Ferreira said one of the team’s main goals is to inspire amputee children. The team will make them honorary guests at their games and let them play the part of bat boy or bat girl.
“Inspiration and dedication to others” is what Ferreira said the team is all about.
Before coming to Destin, the team’s most recent stops were Las Vegas, Nev., and Fort Worth, Texas.
“This is the first time in this region of Northwest Florida that they’ve come to the area, and what makes this extra special is they are booked through 2014,” said Therese van Gogh, who is with the organizing committee that’s bringing the team to Destin. “So, for them to come to this area is huge.”
Another sponsor of the team coming to Destin is The Rehabilitation Institute of Northwest Florida, which was one of the Destin stops that Ferreira, Wege and their coach, David Van Sleet, made on Oct. 22 in preparation for their double header.
Ferreira was born in 1989 and currently resides in Rockville, Md. Wege was also born in 1989 and resides in Fond du Lac, Wis.
Wege joined the team when it was first formed in March 2011, and Ferreira joined seven months ago.
“Josh and I are the only guys missing both legs,” said Ferreira.
Wege was injured in southern Afghanistan on Oct. 4, 2009, during a routine vehicle patrol. He was helping to gather supplies for the Afghan police when a 200-pound IED claimed both of his legs below the knee.
“Getting on this team gives you back a sense of competitiveness and camaraderie,” said Wege. “I wanted to see if I could keep up with the single amputees, and I can.”
Their coach is also the person whose idea it was to form the team.
“I came to a point in my life when it was time to give back,” said Van Sleet, a veteran of the United States Army.
“They’ve won in their life,” he said of his players. “I think they’ve won just by being able to live and walk and play a sport.”
There are 14 players on the team, which Van Sleet said is based three-fourths on physical ability and one fourth on being able to fit in chemistry wise because the team travels extensively together. Van Sleet also said that the team comprises half United States Army members and half United States Marines.
“We’re just amazed at the support the team has received,” Van Sleet said.
Wege has never been to Destin before, but Ferreira has visited the area. Both are excited to play in Destin next weekend. Be on the lookout for number 55, Ferreira, and number 23, Wege.
“Our motto is: life without a limb is limitless,” Wege said.
When they aren’t playing for the team, Ferreira is studying criminology at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and Wege travels doing public speaking.
For information on how to become a sponsor for this event, contact Donna Riemer at 850-279-6703. Donations to support the team can be made at purpleheartsministries.org. Learn more about the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team at woundedwarrioramputeesoftballteam.org.
“If you’re not worried about how anyone looks at you, then it’s a blessing of the sky …” Ferreira said.