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The Stars Of The Next World Cup Will Surprise You

Industrial accident. Birth. Gunfire during Sierra Leone's civil war. Freak accident with glass. Cancer. Vehicle accident. Stray gunfire. Motorcycle accident. Nerve injury. What do all of these incidents have in common? They led to amputee status for the people involved. What do all these people have in common? They moved forward, emotionally and physically, and will all compete in the Amputee World Cup.  

The Cup  will be played in Culiacán, Sinaloa in Mexico starting November 30. Scheduled to compete are twenty-four national teams from five continents. The international rules will be in effect; they call for a 7 v 7 format and require that the field players be A2/A4 amputees (one leg amputation from below the knee or higher) and the goalie be an A6/A8 amputee (one arm amputation from the wrist joint or higher). Teams may consist of both men and women. Prosthetics are not allowed during play. Games consist of two 25-minute halves. In place of throw-ins, indirect free kicks are taken. Any intentional contact by a player with a crutch or non-playing limb is treated as a handball. The team left standing at the end of the tournament will take home the coveted title of Amputee World Champion 2014.

Like some of life's greatest inventions, the creation of amputee soccer was the result of an accident. The game found its start in 1980 when amputee Don Bennett raised up on his crutches to kick his son's run-away basketball back up the driveway.  Realizing that if he could kick a basketball on crutches, he could kick a soccer ball, Bennett brought the game to his ski buddies, and they used it to stay in shape for ski season.

The game began its organized rise to popularity when, in 1986, Bill Barry started coaching a team under the Seattle Handicapped Sports and Recreation Association and eventually established Amputee Soccer International. Barry traveled worldwide, introducing the game to anyone who would watch. He also scheduled exhibition games in conjunction with major sporting events (before a Yankees game, halftime of a Canadian professional football game, during the World Cup) to attract media attention.

While the origins of amputee soccer were not groundbreaking, Barry's efforts did not go unrewarded. The sport rose in popularity, especially in Europe, where soccer is THE priority. European teams have dominated international competition and will be looking to prove it again come November.

While not as popular in the United States, the American Amputee Soccer Association (AASA) is alive and well, with its primary focus on establishing local recreational programs and helping form teams and leagues. The AASA also works with military and children's hospitals and conducts workshops and demonstrations across the country.

The U.S. team will look to have an impact at this year's World Cup. One of the members of the squad, Josh Sundquist, is actually a former Paralympic skier, bestselling author and motivational speaker - who just so happens to be documenting the team's preparations for Mexico 2014. Josh, lost his left leg to Ewing's sarcoma at age nine, has written several inspiring and funny books about life as an amputee (2010's "Just Don't Fall" and 2014's upcoming release, "We Should Hang Out Sometime"). You can check out his first installment of preparations for World Cup 2014 below, and it's definitely worth your time to watch all his other videos on his YouTube channel or website.

All in all, each organization around the world supporting amputee soccer accomplishes so much more than  providing a competitive sports environment. The lives of amputees are changed forever following the loss of their limbs, and secondary physical problems and depression are common. Research shows the significant positive impact exercise and sport has on the bodies and minds of amputees, and the organizations providing these opportunities should be commended.

Best wishes to all the teams competing at the World Cup – your dedication and strength are an inspiration to amputees and non-amputees around the world!

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