By Ellen Nason
The Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team came out on top in a recent charity flag football played against former National Football League stars in Tampa, Florida, but the final score was not the primary focus for any of the athletes or spectators.
The game, sponsored by Humana, is the latest in a series played by the Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team (WWAFT) to raise awareness and support for the nation’s veterans and their families. The team is comprised of injured veterans who, despite using prosthetic devices, are overcoming challenges to not only engage in everyday activities but are competing in athletic events against legendary athletes – and winning.
BJ Ganem, a 37-year-old Reedsburg, Wisconsin, resident, and a co-
captain of the WWAFT, said playing with the NFL stars is a dream come true. But, more importantly, he said he hopes the games inspire anyone facing a challenge in life and bring hope to the communities where the games are played.
“It’s a lot of fun, and to be able to say you held your own against NFL greats is uplifting and rewarding,” said Ganem, a former Marine who lost his lower left leg in a roadside bombing in November 2004 while serving in Iraq. “It’s good to get out there and mix it up and show not only what I can still do but what other guys and gals can still do – even when playing a game as intricate as football. I hope it’s inspirational to others even if they are facing challenges that may not be as severe. I hope it gives them a little bit of oomph to get out there and have fun and try to be more active and healthy.”
Ganem has experienced his own moments of inspiration as a member of the team.
“There is that ‘ah’ moment in every game, especially when you have new guys,” including some who have just received a prosthetic device, he said. “They are initially unsure of what they are capable of, and you can see a bit of trepidation, but then there is joy on their faces when they begin running routes and scoring touchdowns. You can see a change instantly. They did it. It’s an accomplishment… a feeling of YES!”
Ganem, who works for the nonprofit, Semper Fi Fund, and is the father of three, also recounted a moment that had a powerful personal impact following his first WWAFT game, which was held in Green Bay.
“My son’s high school invited me to speak about that game and all of the other stuff I’ve done,” he said. “It was rewarding to see the pride in my son’s eyes and to spread a little inspiration to a younger generation by showing that it takes a lot to kill the human spirit.”
For more information about the WWAFT and how to get involved or donate, please visit http://woundedwarrioramputeefootballteam.org/.
The game in Tampa was the third Wounded Warrior charity football game sponsored by Humana. Humana also presented a $100,000 donation to the WWAFT during pre-game ceremonies in Tampa.