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Amputee vets inspire others on softball field

By Lindy Royce-Bartlett, CNN
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed April 4, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Wounded Warriors softball team is made up of ex-troops who lost limbs in combat
  • Team's mission is to raise awareness of "sacrifices and resilience of our military'"
  • Veterans on team say playing has helped them regain normalcy in their lives
  • Wounded Warriors have a winning record against teams with players who aren't amputees

Washington (CNN) -- Tim Horton was 20 years old and on his first deployment in Iraq with the Marine Corps when a bomb exploded under the Humvee he was driving. It was February 5, 2005.

"The last thing I remember is my buddy saying, 'You're gonna be all right,' and the helicopter going up in the air."

Horton, who's from San Antonio, suffered multiple injuries, and his left leg was amputated below the knee.

While recovering at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Horton said he worried about his future.

"I was like, 'Am I going to be in a wheelchair?' I didn't know about prosthetics."

He went on, joking, "The only prosthetic I'd ever seen in my whole life was my uncle's hook, and all he did was smoke pipe tobacco. So the hope for me was not looking too bright."

After outpatient care and rehabilitation, Horton became comfortable and active again with his prosthetic leg. He received an e-mail one day asking if he participated in sports.

Brian Taylor Urruela was also on his first deployment in Iraq -- he was in the Army -- when the Humvee in which he was traveling was hit by two roadside bombs in October 2006.

"It was five of us in there," Urruela said. "Three of us suffered amputations -- one was multiple injuries and one of my buddies died."

He had what he calls an "extremely traumatic" injury that blew his femoral artery and rendered his leg basically useless.

After two years of working unsuccessfully to save his limb, Urruela made the difficult decision to have his right leg amputated below the knee.

An additional year of physical therapy with his prosthetic leg, along with some inspiration from a fellow amputee, helped him to become more active.

Horton, 28, and Urruela, 26, not only share the same experience of losing a limb in combat, but they're also teammates on the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team.

"Our team is awesome," Horton says, "We all support each other, whether it's on the field or off."

Urruela, who lives in the Tampa Bay, Florida, area, said he believes being a member of the team has really helped him get back to normalcy.

"Being able to play competitively against other teams -- getting that back was huge for me, significant."

The team's mission is to "raise awareness, through exhibition and celebrity softball games, of the sacrifices and resilience of our military, and highlight their ability to rise above any challenge," according to its website.

The team, made up of a small group of men who lost limbs in war, typically travel two weekends a month to towns and cities across the United States to play.

The Wounded Warriors usually compete against teams made up of military, police and correctional officers -- none of whom are amputees. And the Warriors have a winning record.

On a beautiful Tuesday evening in April, the players gathered at Nationals Park stadium in Washington to compete against a team of local celebrities in the Wounded Warrior Amputee Celebrity Softball Classic.

Darrell Green, an NFL Hall of Famer who starred with the hometown Redskins and a member of the celebrity team, calls the Wounded Warriors inspiring.

"These are the people that make us be able to play under these friendly skies and so for them to do this -- it's big, huge."

Celebrity teammate and Washington Mayor Vincent Gray agreed.

"Look at these guys and see what they've given up for their country."

When asked before the game whether his team had a chance at victory, Green predicted that the Warriors would have the celebrities running all over the field.

"I don't think we can beat them," he said.

The former football great was right. Green and his teammates never had a chance. The Wounded Warriors won 17-4.

But in the end it's not about winning or losing -- members of the Wounded Warriors team said they want to inspire fans.

"They see us back out here; we're back being active," Horton said. "We got severely injured, but we're back out doing stuff now."

Teammate Urruela added, "We're not fragile. We're not going to break.

"Don't be sorry for me -- it's a little hiccup, but it's not going to keep me down."

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