Photo of the USA Patriots Amputee Softball Team with volunteer LI Chair Joe Bartumioli. Photo Credit: Steve Caputo
When asked what the USA Patriots: America’s Amputee Softball Team really means to him; what he’d really like the world to know, this is what Joe tells me:
“The whole point of this is to illustrate that, despite whatever life may throw, every day is a new day. The best thing we can ever do is to embrace our new normal and cultivate an attitude that recognizes that the limits we have are self-imposed.
This is what these guys teach me every day — That the life we live is limitless.
We invite you to make the most of it, and take great pride in showing you how it’s done. It’s amazing what happens when we do.”
Join Us for a Very Special Reception with the USA Patriots
I hope you can join us at the Firefly Artists, 162 Main Street in Northport on July 22nd between 5 and 7pm. There, we will be having a reception for the USA Patriots: America’s Amputee Softball Team. This will be a welcoming meet and greet that precedes their Long Island games in Moriches and Bayport on the 23rd and 24th.
As part of the mission is to show the world what these players can do, all games are free and open to the public.
It’s their 10th anniversary, so it’s kind of a big deal. Athletes will be on hand signing photographs and sharing stories. There will be an exhibition of photography capturing these guys in action by Firefly Steve Caputo. Visitors will have opportunities to take photos with team members and possibly win a raffle prize.
I am grateful to Steve for introducing me to these guys. He is a talented photographer who has been documenting the team since their very first games. Recently, we sat down with their Long Island Volunteer Chair, Joe Bartumioli, the team’s Executive Director Desiree Ellison, and Greg Reynolds, one the heroic USA Patriots they passionately serve.
One gets the impression that Joe Bart is a lover not a fighter. Joe’s also very quick to tell you that, while he’s long believed in nurturing athletics, “The only things that runs on me is my mouth.”
You’d better believe he can win marathons with that. My goodness! Before this first meeting, Joe has already sent four effusive emails, several videos, and five or six other attachments. When we go to sit down together, he’s already told seven stories before I can find my pen and a clean page. I laugh that I’ve really got to start recording these things, because there’s no way I’m keeping up with this guy!
The message he and the others bring is clear, though: These are stories of love and deep admiration for extraordinary hero-athletes who are committed to showing the world what’s possible. Their enthusiasm for this extraordinary softball team is contagious.
Let Us Show You What's Possible
Greg and Desiree will tell you that the feelings are mutual — Joe is their longest standing and most incredibly hands on supporter, “He cares SO much and he loves SO much.”
They don’t really need to speak. You can see it in their faces, over Zoom no less. It is very clear they love him dearly.
Greg emphasizes how much he appreciates the support because he wants to the world to know, “We are here with a message for anyone who needs to be inspired, has never seen anything like us before, or has been to a really hard place and needs a hand finding their way out.
Come, see how the guys and gals involved here have taken the idea of service to a whole new level. Even more, just come to see the great game of ball these folks have come to play.
We want all to know that this is possible; that there is great life after injury.
Come. Watch us win the day.”
"Watch Us Win the Day"
Joe won’t stop calling them the “Wounded Warriors”, even as the team has worked hard to distance itself from the high profile organization (which they have never been affiliated with) that’s been working to redeem a name sullied by revelations of upper mismanagement since 2016. It isn’t judgment on any of that from them, I don’t think. It’s just that they’re a standalone nonprofit that had nothing to do with it, are themselves certified “Platinum” by Guidestar, and they don’t need the distraction.
To Joe, however, it seems none of that matters because the words themselves fit so well. These athletes are indeed “Wounded Warriors” in the most noble sense of the words.
All USA Patriots team members are missing or hardly have at least one limb. Several are missing more. Theirs are not stories of misfortune, however, so much as triumph over challenge; of determination to overcome and to lead others in doing the same.
A New Kind of Hero
The focus is on playing ball and playing it well, but it’s really about much more than that. The game, while deeply therapeutic and community building, symbolizes a much bigger idea about showing the world what’s possible.
One of these guys, Matias Ferreira, “The man with a million dollar smile,” as Joe lovingly refers to him, is the only one who actually lives on Long Island. Matias lost both legs in combat as a 19 year old Marine. Now, he serves as a Suffolk County police officer. Another player, Josh Wege, will tell you that life is better now than he suspects it might have been without his injury.
Greg Reynolds, who is missing a shoulder and an arm, now holds a world record of 54 one-armed pushups within one minute with a 40-pound weight strapped to his back. In addition to being a stellar athlete and a primary booster of the USA Patriots, Greg also runs another motivational charity called “Makin’ Lemonade”. This, too, is about making the best of life’s more difficult situations.
While these veterans may have medals for valiant service, the heroism here is about what they’re doing now. There’s a condition to serving on this team, on beyond having become an amputee in service to the US Military.
“These guys are not just in it for themselves but for each other. And there’s more. Much more.” Joe looks at me intently as he emphasizes this point, “To play, you’ve got to mentor a kid AND a parent who attend a special camp that shows them you can have a good and active life after catastrophic injury.”
How It Started
It all began at Walter Reed hospital with a one-week spring training in softball for wounded veterans who were learning to walk again. Very quickly, it became apparent that this was a great idea. It was obvious that the game was deeply healing, both physically and emotionally. In 2011, they established a team that deepened this experience and also met with great success.
Like one often finds among service folk, it wasn’t long before these veterans were itching to give back to the communities who had supported them in their times of need. Coming together to see what they could do, they decided to pay the gift forward by using their service to show “how life without limbs can be limitless.”
Thus, Kids Camp was established. The team itself takes great pride in fundraising for the weeklong camp so that no child or family has to be burdened with the costs of attending. They make sure they’ve got them covered.
The team and the camp together foster a tremendous sense of camaraderie among the players. They also get to further develop their leadership skills by mentoring and coaching young children who have suffered limb loss. It is liberating for these kids and their families to see how they may overcome their challenges and live active, engaged lives.
Many of the veterans involved will tell you that being able to do this also enhances their own healing. Joe gets at least as excited about the team’s impact on young people as he does his beloved players. There are so many stories he is eager to share…of kids willing to wear shorts again, of learning they can play sports again; of realizing that there are very cool people out there living tremendously rich lives despite super challenging circumstances and that they, too, can be one of them.
Often, the parents need to see this as least as much as the kids do.
The USA Patriots live to show us all.
How It's Going
The USA Patriots have now developed four branches of programming: A softball team, a spring training week that provides adaptive skills training, and the Kids Camp, which engages teammates in leadership, coaching and the sharing of adaptive sport techniques with children who have experience catastrophic injury. The fourth aspect is public education and motivational speaking regarding their experience, adaptive sports and prosthetic care.
1. Team: The USA Patriots is a travel softball team that plays exhibition games against able-bodied teams throughout the country. They consider Long Island to be their home away from home as they have played here more than anywhere else. This participation in team sport aids physical and emotional well being. It further supports the veterans’ abilities to work collectively and in more social settings, increasing their emotional intelligence and serving as a form of therapy for intellectual limitations caused by PTSD or TBI.
2. Spring Training – Adaptive Skills Training: This is a week-long opportunity to bring the entire roster together for a refresher on skills and adaptive techniques. Over the years, the program has grown in length and depth, becoming a valuable check-in on the physical and emotional states of players. Softball professionals are directly involved as is a Physical Therapist who works specifically with the amputee population. Professionals with Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and the Veterans’ Administration (VA) have also become involved, helping to ensure that athletes’ medical needs are being met. They look forward to developing this aspect further, especially in regard to incorporating more mental health wellness opportunities.
3. Kids Camp – Leadership/Coaching: Kids Camp reaches beyond the veteran population to serve children who have suffered limb loss. While there is preference for children of veterans, the opportunity is open to any child in the amputee community. The program benefits the participating veterans as well, providing opportunity to serve in a leadership capacity, building confidence and social skills. Often athletes get to coach and to teach adaptive techniques to children who have the same limitations they do, deepening healing for all involved. A primary objective is to help children and their families see how they may lead rich lives and participate in active sports, despite the experience of limb loss.
4. Education and Community: Throughout their travels, the USA Patriots make it a priority to educate communities. They visit schools, corporate offices and other new amputees in VAs and hospitals across the country to teach about the abilities and needs of wounded veterans, specifically those who have experienced traumatic loss. Education is also directed internally, serving new athletes and providing significant resources on upgrading their prosthetics to be more adaptive for an athletic setting
Please Help Support this Healing, Uplifting Mission
Joe quotes famed football player and deeply appreciated local philanthropist Marty Lyons, “We always need money. If you don’t have money to give, then contribute your professional services or Gifts-In-Kind. If you don’t have those, then contribute your time. If you don’t have time, then contribute your thoughts and prayers.”
The USA Patriots are an independent, standalone Guidestar “platinum rated” 501(c)3 organization that depends on community support to advance their mission, vision, goals and values.
Staff and teammates believe deeply in the value of this recreational therapy, and what it allows them to do for each other as teammates. They are particularly uplifted when they see the children they serve willing to reach new heights.
This is not a geographically concentrated population. Connecting these veterans with each other and the communities they seek to serve requires travel and equipment, which is expensive. The veterans do receive a small stipend of $70 per game, and are supported in providing motivational speaking throughout the country.