Amputees Compete In League Of Their Own

Posted: November 16, 2000

In 1973, Dave Marshall had a tryout with the Phillies, but he never got the chance to find out what would become of it.

Two weeks after the tryout, Marshall was driving his new motorcycle on the way to work early in the morning. A dog was chasing him down the street, which distracted him as a car pulled out of a driveway.

"I tried to swerve behind him and his bumper caught my leg," said Marshall, a Bensalem resident. "It basically just crushed it on the spot." He lost his right leg at mid-shin.

Marshall is 47 now and wears a prosthesis, but he hasn't stopped competing. This week, he is in Seattle, playing for his country in the Amputee Soccer World Cup. He is one of two area residents on the squad.

"I'm pretty good on crutches, even at my age," said Marshall, a defender on the team.

The sport of amputee soccer began in Seattle about 20 years ago, but it didn't reach this area until a demonstration was held in Northeast Philadelphia in 1997. That's when Marshall began playing.

"A call went out to all of us who are short on one side," said Rick Hofmann of Wilmington, who eventually formed the American Amputee Soccer Association. "We saw the game, and some of us absolutely fell in love with it. To see what some of the older players can do to introduce young or new amputees to the game, show them not only that life goes on, but you can have a hell of a lot of fun in the process.

"Something magical happens when you rise up on your crutches and kick the ball. It doesn't matter what direction you kick it, doesn't matter how far. Once you realize you can do that one thing, then your whole world opens up."

Hofmann, who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident, describes himself as an "in-case-of-emergency" defender for the U.S. team.

Eight countries are competing in Seattle. The favorites are Russia, which won the tournament two years ago, and Brazil, which won it last year. The Russians have a number of former Army officers who lost limbs in combat in Afghanistan. Several of the Brazilians lost their legs from snake bites while they worked in fields.

"Brazil is a freelance type of team," Marshall said. "They're all over the place. The Russians, they stay in position. They don't deviate. It's quite a difference."

Marshall doesn't use crutches off the field, but the rules insist on them during games. Players must use metal forearm crutches. They must play without prosthetic legs or feet. Goalies may use two feet, but only one hand. The U.S. team's goalie, Jim Loudon, who lives in Cheltenham, lost his hand in an industrial accident in 1972.

One member of the U.S. team, Robert Spotswood, was a member of the Alabama state-select soccer team until a 1998 car accident forced an amputation above the knee.

"He went out through the windshield, his leg stayed in the car," Hofmann said. Spotswood found the Web site www.ampsoccer.org and contacted the team. A year after his accident, he played for the United States in a tournament in Kiev, Ukraine, and scored a goal.

Marshall works as a prosthetist, measuring and fitting artificial legs. He said people enjoy going to him because he has an understanding of what they tell him.

"Going up and down steps, there are pressure points in wearing an artificial leg," he said. "They say, 'It hurts here,' but there are no marks. I know because I've got pain and there are no marks."

Marshall once jokingly told a young man that he wouldn't fit him for a leg if the man didn't give soccer a try. The guy did it. He didn't stay with the sport, but that wasn't the point.

"The competitive spirit does not drop off just because something else did," Hofmann said.

Mike Jensen's e-mail address is mjensen@phillynews.com

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