About the blogger: Ten-year-old Jen Castro, from New Fairfield, Conn., was born a below-the-elbow amputee and has been a Boston Children’s Hospital patient for most of her life. She is an avid softball player.
Most kids dream of going to summer camp. But I’m not most kids. I was born a below-the-elbow amputee.
I don’t really like summer camp. It was never easy for me to be around other kids who don’t know me. I get stares, endless questions, and then whispers and comments: “Look at that girl, she’s missing her arm.”
I’d rather not attend.
Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Camp
So you can just imagine what I felt like when my mom told me about a camp that was open only to kids who were missing limbs. That all the instructors would be missing limbs too. For a moment, she had my attention when she told me it was a softball camp, because I love softball. But only for a moment!
She kept trying. She shared with me that the camp was run by a group of soldiers who were injured while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and came home missing limbs. She showed me a video of the wounded warrior amputee softball team.
They were amazing athletes. Some were just like me. I knew I could learn a lot from them. But the thought of being around 19 other kids who I didn’t know was not something I wanted to do.
I sent in a video of myself playing softball and submitted it with my application to the Wounded Warrior Softball Kids Camp. The team selects only 20 children amputees from across the United States to attend every year. I figured the odds of them choosing me were slim and didn’t give it too much thought. Remember—I really didn’t want to go.
One afternoon I came home from school and found a huge envelope on the kitchen counter. Inside was a letter telling me, “Congratulations, you have been selected to attend the 2nd Annual Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Camp.”
I had a knot in my stomach. Was I going to feel strange being around others who were missing limbs? I had never been around any other amputees—children or adults. I thought to myself that it wasn’t a good idea.
Then, I started watching videos of the wounded warrior players and reading about them. Part of me really wanted to meet them. I even thought that I could learn so much from them about softball. I play on an in-house team in my hometown and had just made the travel softball team.
“Ok,” I thought, “I’ll go and come back a better softball player at the very least!”
I never imagined that I would go, come back and my life would be changed forever!
Softball, shoelaces and more
Oh, I learned plenty about softball. You see while the coaches in my hometown are awesome, they couldn’t begin to know how to improve my play.
That would take an amputee, an amputee who plays softball and is missing his arm just like me. His name is Greg Reynolds. He changed the way I swing and the way I take my glove off to get the ball where it needs to be. I learned from Greg and from all of the wounded warrior players.
We played softball every morning for four hours and then spent the rest of our days and nights together taking various trips and getting to know each other.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel different. I didn’t feel out of place. I didn’t feel like I wanted to hide. I realized that I am not alone. There are others missing limbs who feel the same as me.
I made so many new friends. None of us felt uncomfortable talking about our amputations or how we feel about missing a limb. I have never been able to do that other than with my mom, dad and two older brothers. I like to keep to myself. I keep it all inside. To finally be able to share how I feel with other amputees who could understand made me feel like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
View HBO Real Sports “League of Their Own” video about Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Camp.
My orthopedic surgeon Dr. Peters Waters, from Boston Children’s Hospital, told my mom years ago to treat me the same as my brothers. That while I may be missing my arm, I could be anything that I wish to be. He told my mom that I may go about it differently and that would be OK. That I would find a way. He was right!
I definitely came home a better softball player, but I learned so much more!
Yes, now I can bat lefty, flick my glove off in seconds to field a ball and even do a one-armed pushup. I also learned to tie my shoes, something that every 10-year-old should be able to do. Greg taught me how to lace my shoes differently and tie them myself in less than five minutes time. I was so happy to be able to do that on my own.
Most of all, the wounded warriors taught me to be proud of who I am. That life without a limb is limitless. I learned that the only limitations I have are the ones I make, and I don’t plan on making any!
I have a mission. I want other children like me to know they are not alone. That the sky is the limit. If you want something, whether you are missing a limb or not, if you work hard, you can achieve what you set out to do. Dr. Waters was right: I may go about something differently, but I never quit until I achieve success! Most of all, be proud of who you are. Hold your head high, and each and every day will get better and better.