Amputee softball team helps vets bond, help others
For Chris Hutton, giving back is the name of the game.
Hutton is the local organizer for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, made up of men and women who have served in the U.S. armed forces and are amputees.
WWAST currently has 34 players from all over the country. WWAST aims to participate in around 30 events a year, with players on the roster rotating as needed depending on who can make each event.
One event the team is part of this year is the Buffalo Wild Wings Early Bird Tournament, put on by the Grand Forks Softball Association this weekend. The tournament includes teams from across the state made up of non-amputee men and women, some of whom will play against WWAST.
"To me, it's the opportunity to provide the inspiration that I get from the team to the community of Grand Forks," Hutton said.
Hutton, who joined the team as a player in the summer of 2014, is a retired sergeant who served in the North Dakota National Guard. He spent a year in Iraq in 2004-2005 and came back uninjured.
But after returning to the U.S., Hutton was hit by a car in July 2006 while riding a motorcycle in Grand Forks. He ended up losing the lower portion of his right leg.
Hutton got his start with the team while working as a softball commissioner for the North Dakota Amateur Softball Association, a position he still holds. One of the teams was asked to play against WWAST, and after the team's general manager learned of his background, Hutton was asked to join.
Hutton has also been with the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department for more than 18 years.
Jeremy Sahan, who started playing with the team last year, is also from Grand Forks. But the majority of the team's players are far from local. One team member playing in this weekend's tournament is Cody Rice, who is from northern California.
Rice was serving in the Army in Afghanistan in Aug. 2012 when he stepped on a land mine, causing the loss of his right foot. He first heard about WWAST through social media and ended up joining in November 2014.
Rice had played softball before his injury, and later, when he was looking to be more active, joining WWAST seemed like a no-brainer.
"It's more like a family now," Rice said. "I like just coming to play softball and hang out with everybody."
Rice also enjoys that he gets to give back as part of the team. Originally started as a way to foster health and welfare among amputee veterans, the softball team has grown into a nonprofit charity. WWAST raises money for organizations like the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund, which provides scholarships to veterans and their families.
"Giving back, it's a rewarding feeling. ... Now I just get to hang out with a bunch of kids," Rice said.
WWAST also hosts a kids camp each summer in which players serve as coaches and mentors for 20 to 24 children with amputations or missing limbs. This year's camp will be held in in Washington, D.C., area.
"At kids camp, (they're) one of us," Hutton said. "We're all the same. We teach them that life without a limb is limitless."
WWAST Kids Camp is often the first time children with amputations or missing limbs get to interact with people who have the same challenges, Hutton said.
The financial burden of prosthetics can also prevent these children's families from being able to afford to travel. Because WWAST pays all parent and child expenses, Kids Camp provides them with that opportunity.
Hutton said that while the camp is mainly held to benefit the kids, "It's for the military guys, too."
At the end of the day, Hutton's main goal is to spread a positive message to other amputees.
"I want to give everybody else that feeling, like, we can do this," Hutton said. "It's not the end of the world."