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Jul 16, 2012 3:55 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Wounded Warrior Team Coming To Sag Harbor

Jul 16, 2012 3:55 PM

For most of his adult life, David Van Sleet has focused his energies in two areas—the military and prosthetics—which, due to the nature of war, may naturally go together. He worked for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for more than 30 years on both the clinical and administrative side of the prosthetics field, providing a necessary service for wounded soldiers who suffered injuries so severe that they required amputations.

Since retiring in 2011, Van Sleet hasn’t stopped helping wounded warriors—in fact, he’s found a new way to improve their lives, one that goes far beyond giving them the ability to walk or use their limbs again.

David Van Sleet is the founder and head coach of the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team, a squad comprised entirely of amputee veterans who were injured in the line of duty. Players on the team hail from all over the country, and range in age from 22 to 51. They are united not only by their common fate of suffering a severe injury while serving their country, but also in their love of sports, softball in particular, and their determination to continue living full lives that are not defined by their limitations but rather by their athletic abilities.

The team will be making an appearance on the East End of Long Island in August, scheduled to play a game against a team of local celebrities and community members in Sag Harbor on Saturday, August 4, and another game against a different team in Center Moriches the following day. The team will also bring the National 9/11 Flag to the area for the weekend, and will display the flag at its games. The National 9/11 Flag is one of the largest American flags to fly above the wreckage at Ground Zero. It was destroyed in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11 and stitched back together seven years later by tornado survivors in Greensburg, Kansas. The flag has been stitched by soldiers and schoolchildren who survived the shooting at Ft. Hood, Texas, by World War II veterans on the deck of the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor, by the family of Martin Luther King Jr., by 20 Members of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, and by thousands of everyday service heroes nationwide.

In less than two years of existence, the wounded warrior team (which is a 501c3 non-profit organization and survives solely on donations and sponsorships) has garnered national media attention, being featured on ESPN and Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, as well as in Sports Illustrated and other media outlets. The team competes year ’round all over the country, but only competes against able-bodied teams. Teams that think they will have an easy time beating them because they are all amputees often pay the price for that erroneous assumption. The team’s record is 32-20, and it recently beat an All-Star team that included four ex-Major League Baseball players, four former Olympians, and both a current and retired NFL player.

Van Sleet—who served in the Army in the 1970s after graduating high school—initially hand selected 20 players from more than 100 applicants. The team now has 14 members, and Van Sleet said he chooses the players based not only on athletic talent but also on chemistry, which he said is key because the team travels so much and spends a lot of time together on the road.

The team travels as often as three times a month, typically leaving on a Thursday night for weekend games and returning on Sundays. Most of the players compete in other softball leagues during the week in their respective home towns, and the team practices together on the mornings before their weekend games. They compete against a variety of different types of teams, comprised of firefighters, police officers, military members, or “anyone involved in the community,” Van Sleet said.

The team is a 50/50 split of Army and Marine Corps veterans, who were injured either in Iraq or Afghanistan. Van Sleet said they have been an inspiration for people from all walks of life.

“These guys have suffered a serious injury which resulted in amputation, but these guys came back and went through extensive rehab and had the perseverance to get back to almost a normal lifestyle, or the lifestyle they had before they joined the service,” he said. “The message we’re trying to send is that life goes on and these guys aren’t letting it hold them back. And that if there are other amputees in the military or private sector, don’t feel sorry for yourself because life goes on and you can go on and do a sport or activity just like these guys.”

Van Sleet said that he and his players don’t expect other teams to go easy on them or offer them sympathy. In fact, they don’t recommend it.

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These folks deserve the highest priority in everything they do or go, they risked there lives and gave limbs to protect this Country, A Big Thank You from My Family
By MACDADDY (49), SOUTHAMPTON on Jul 22, 12 1:16 PM