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Joshua Wege, a member of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, and
softball star Jennie Finch-Daigle prepare for the 2012 matchup at McMurry Park in Sulphur. (American Press Archives)

Joshua Wege, a member of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, and softball star Jennie Finch-Daigle prepare for the 2012 matchup at McMurry Park in Sulphur. (American Press Archives)

Real heroes show life goes on

Last Modified: Thursday, June 19, 2014 11:39 AM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

This isn’t your average softball team.

They don’t come equipped with beer guts or larger-than-life stories of their past greatness.

This is a humble team, one that plays not only for the love of the game but also for a far greater purpose.

The Wounded Warriors Amputee team returns to Sulphur after a year’s absence to say thanks.

“We had a great time when we were here before,” said Dave Van Sleet, the team’s head coach. “The community did so much for us.”

No question the Lake Area opened its arms, and wallets, to the team. Van Sleet said their last two-game trip to McMurry Park proved to be the best financially for the group.

“It takes a lot to run this program, but that’s not the reason we wanted to come back,” Van Sleet said. “We really wanted to let the people know how much we appreciated all they did for us.”

Truth is, the thanks should go to the Wounded Warriors.

They did more than play a couple of softball games against the Jennie Finch All-Stars. They provided a inspiration to all who watched.

“Softball is just an avenue for us to inspire others and show what we can do,” Van Sleet said.

And the message is clear if you watch just one inning.

“Life goes on,” Van Sleet said. “That is what these guys really show with the way they play. They want the people to know that they were wounded, but their lives are far from over.

“Life without limbs isn’t limitless.”

It’s amazing to see the speed at which these guys play the game. They are competitive and want to win like any other athlete.

“We win some games we shouldn’t win and we lose some games we shouldn’t lose,” Van Sleet said.

Losing a game seems so unimportant when you consider what these guys have given up for their country.

Each one of them have had their lives changed forever because they believed in what they were doing and had a bigger sense of purpose than themselves.

Winning or losing doesn’t seem all that important when you consider what they have already accomplished.

“These guys didn’t know if they were going to live, let alone walk again,” Van Sleet said. “Playing a sport again was the furthest thing from their minds.

“They have had to work so hard to get back to this position. It is an amazing thing to see.”

It’s also the biggest gift they give the crowd, a show of perseverance that’s hard to even imagine.

Seems it would be easy for each one of these guys to get frustrated, say “Why me?” and go into a shell. Instead they’re out playing the game they love and still inspiring others with their actions.

But they do more than just play a game.

These players will meet with local kids, many of whom have also lost a limb.

“Some of those kids inspire us,” Van Sleet said. “Many have been amputees longer than our guys.”

Once the game begins it doesn’t take long for the players to show they are more than adapted to their circumstances.

“At first people are concerned about them,” Van Sleet said. “By the second inning they forget they are amputees.”

And that’s the best message of all.

These soldiers prove game in and game out that you can overcome just about anything if you keep working and keep trying.

For that, along with the service they’ve given our country, they deserve the real thank you.

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at

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