Health and Fitness Column

Amputees having success in soccer

By John Taylor | Oct 02, 2012

Earlier this year, I was watching ESPN and saw a story on “Sportscenter” covering Bree McMahon, a junior goal keeper at Brevard College.
This week, I was viewing a story on the “CBS Evening News” that focused on Nico Calabria, a student at Concord-Carlisle (MA) High School who plays on the institution’s varsity soccer team.
Though these students are separated by 950 miles, they do share one commonality. Neither has allowed the fact they only have one leg interfere with their soccer careers.
McMahon, who played high school soccer in Orlando, was recruited by a number of colleges before losing her leg after a friend and teammate accidently crushed it while participating in a carwash fundraiser. McMahon endured 18 surgeries, and spent the next two years after the accident recovering and learning how to walk with a prosthetic limb.
The accident cost McMahon her entire senior season of high school soccer competition, but she found out that Brevard College, who had offered McMahon a scholarship before the loss of her leg, would still honor her soccer scholarship.
McMahon decided to attend Brevard, redshirt her freshman year, work as the team manager, and learn how to play soccer on a new prosthetic limb.  
All of her hard work paid off on April 21, 2012 when Brevard College played an exhibition against Catawba College. During the game, McMahon came off the bench, and played 25 minutes as a goalkeeper. She allowed zero goals, and made one save in the 2-1 Brevard College win.
Seven games into the 2012 Brevard Women’s Soccer season, McMahon continues to be a strong team contributor. She has played 50 minutes in goal in two games, has made two saves, and has allowed zero goals.
However, unlike McMahon, Calabria did not lose his leg due to an accident. As a matter of fact, Calabria has never known what life was like with two legs, because he was born without a right leg and hip joint. But that has never stopped Calabria from playing sports, and he currently participates in skiing, volleyball, diving, wrestling, and, of course, soccer.
When Calabria participates in soccer, he utilizes forearm crutches that allow him to move up and down the field. Though he previously tried using a prosthetic limb to compete, Calabria told a CBS reporter he thought the prosthetic device inhibited his movement, and felt more athletic with the crutches.
Though some schools objected to Calabria using the forearm crutches because it was thought to give him a competitive advantage, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association ruled that Calabria could use the crutches, citing legislation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
To those who still assert that Calabria holds a competitive advantage when using his forearm crutches, the Massachusetts teen told a CBS reporter, “I suggest they try it and then tell me if they think it’s an advantage or not.”
However, one sport Calabria doesn’t use crutches for is wrestling, and despite lacking one leg, he was able to place third place in his weight class at last year’s Massachusetts state championship tournament.  
And if his accomplishments aren’t impressive enough already, at the age of 13, Calabria became the first amputee to climb to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak on the African continent.
Though no parent would ever want to see their child go through life with one leg, I would be proud if my daughter had the determination and spirit to not let any physical obstacles stop her from accomplishing her dreams.
In the interview with CBS, Calabria said, “My disability doesn’t define who I am. My disability gives me a challenge everyday that I need to over come and I think that challenge has made me a stronger person.”
Who knew a junior in high school could move me to the point that I appreciate the athletic opportunities that are available to America’s youth?
Both McMahon and Calabria said in separate interviews that they hope to one day represent the United States on one their national teams. If either is able to make a U.S. Amputee or Paralympics squad, I will definitely be rooting for their continued success, even though they won’t need it.