Wounded Warriors Take The Field

Nina Bezzant with her new heroes. Photo from WWAST

I thought I had been inspired enough for one week, but I was so wrong.

I thought it was inspiring enough to watch seven innings of high-level, rousing softball played by a team of Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran amputees. Enough to see left-handed Army veteran Greg Reynolds catch a fly ball with his only hand – the right one – toss it up a foot or so in the air while slipping his mitt to the ground, then throw it to the first baseman for the out.

Inspiring enough to witness Army soldiers and Marines tear from first to second to third to home bases like their prosthetic legs were running shoes, not mechanical appendages. Or see pitches whacked beyond the out-fielders by soldiers with one arm.

But the inspiration kept on coming – for days. After the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team (WWAST) beat the Hickam Chiefs 22-14 on Pearl Harbor naval base, there stood a beaming little blond girl in an orange polka-dot hoodie. At closer glance, 8-year-old Nina Bezzant, whose blue crutches drew focus downward, was missing part of her right leg.

Last fall I met four (of 13) softball players for WWAST here to promote the January games. Marines Matias Ferreira, 23, Matthew Kinsey, 27, Joshua Wege, 23, and Army veteran Nicholas Clark, 31, attended the Medal of Honor Recipient Ceremony at the Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl to honor their own heroes, and were surprised to be introduced by guest speaker Jerry Coffee (my husband) and the resulting sustained standing ovation.

As we visited, I had a stunning revelation. Among these four men were only two legs, the rest were prosthetics.

But more stunning was what wasn’t missing: humility, intelligence, eloquence, enthusiasm (and good looks!). These American heroes have overcome physical and emotional suffering, and now are dedicated to helping others do the same.

The WWAST members from different locales only play “able-bodied” teams – as only Warriors would. Competing in 17 states during the last 18 months, they most often beat the socks off their opponents. Last week they played softball games around Oahu, culminating in a matchup against a “celebrity” team made up of such island athletic legends as Chad Owens and Bennie Agbayani. Their team motto is “A life without limbs is limitless.” Believe me, they prove that on the field.

Last Wednesday morning the team visited Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children. Totally unaware of their visit, Jerry and I were at Kapiolani with our grandson Lyle, 11, (over with mom, Sandy, from Waimea, Hawaii) for his third knee surgery in six weeks. Having told him about this amazing amputee softball team – as if orchestrated – we ran into Marines Ferreira, Kinsey and Kyle Earl in the hospital lobby. What an encouragement for Lyle before his surgery. We saw Nina was there, too, in Lyle’s doctor’s office in what seemed to us to be a miraculous display of exquisite timing.

Nina, herself a “miracle child” to parents Julie and Shane Bezzant, was born missing part of her right leg, a congenital amputation because of a rare condition called amniotic band syndrome, often fatal, explains Julie. (Shane, himself a combat war veteran, is now out of the Army.)

“We have never let her think that she is limited, and meeting the team and seeing them play has shown her that is really true,” said Julie, proud of Nina’s positive outlook. But as Nina grows, new challenges arise. The Kapiolani staff (“They are incredible.”) have seen the Bezzants often during the two-year challenge of Nina’s growing leg “stump,” prosthesis discomfort and six surgeries in the past year to create a better fit. Nina wants to play soccer.

More than inspiration, the Warriors’ hospital visit had a practical side, too. Pain being hard to describe, especially for an 8-year-old, Nina’s physician, Dr. Burkhalter, has worked to interpret what Nina is feeling. But through hard-earned experience, the Wounded Warriors knew what Nina was feeling. Their useful tips are helping the doc and physical therapist design a more-effective rehab for Nina.

“Pretty neat morning, huh?” Julie said to Nina after breakfast with the Wounded Warriors.

“Are you kidding me?” replied Nina. “That was the best morning of my life.”

There’s no such thing as too much inspiration. And last week these wounded vets and Nina Bezzant hit an inspiration home run with the bases loaded.

For information and ways to donate to Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team, go to wwast.org and visit their Facebook page.