Sunday, January 24, 2010

Utah amputees recruit for basketball team

From the Deseret News in Utah. In the picture, Brandon Larson, from left, of Salt Lake City, drives to the hoop as Tyler Hyatt, of Salt Lake City, blocks Steven Osborn, of Mesa, Ariz., as members of Amp1 Stand Up Amputee Basketball play a demonstration game.

From the waist up, it was like any other four-on-four basketball game. There were plays called, screens set, 3-pointers shot, fouls called, free throws taken and high-fives all around.

What made Friday's game at the Copperview Recreation Center in Midvale different was that seven of the eight players were amputees, each playing with a prosthetic leg. And if the game was short — only 20 minutes — the message brought by the players was one of a long effort to get a league for such players.

Tyler Hyatt of Salt Lake City and Scott Odom of Fort Worth, Texas, both amputees, met when Hyatt came across a video of Odom on YouTube playing stand-up basketball. Hyatt had been interested in starting a stand-up amputee league, but he was always told the same thing – it could not be done.

Hyatt contacted Odom, and the two quickly became friends. They spoke on the phone every night about their shared dream. Odom had been trying to generate interest in a stand-up amputee league for nearly 10 years, and the call from Hyatt was all he needed to get it started. Together the pair co-founded Amp 1 in 2009, a team that they hope to turn into a league.

At the end of the first 10-minute half in Friday's game, the white team, consisting of Myles Davis of Detroit, Brian Vincent of San Diego, Steven Osborn of Mesa, Ariz., and Odom, led the blue team 16-14. But by the end of the game, the blue team, made up of Salt Lake players Brandon Larson, Dane Tidwell, Hyatt and Hyatt's brother Bronson Hyatt, who is not an amputee, had come back to win 35-32.

Odom and Tyler Hyatt have slowly gathered players who are amputees, typically those who were either born without a leg, or lost one to cancer or an accident, from around the country.

Tyler Hyatt lost his leg at 4 years of age. He was biking down a hill when he ran into a garbage truck that was backing up. The truck then rolled over him and dragged him for 15 yards.

"By then, the damage was done," Hyatt said.

Seven doctors at Primary Children's Medical Center worked hard to keep Tyler Hyatt alive. He had 18 surgeries in three months.

"They were able to save my life, but they weren't able to save my limb," Tyler Hyatt said.

Odom has a different story, but one that also ends in the loss of a leg. Extremely active growing up, Odom often complained of knee pains. Family doctors told him he was too active. It wasn't until two weeks before he started high school that his football team doctor suggested an X-ray and then an MRI, which led to the discovery of osteosarcoma — bone cancer.

Odom was given the option of keeping his leg — but losing his ability to be active — or having it amputated. A die-hard sports fan, he gave up his leg for the hope of the chance to get back in the game — any game.

"I was looking at my leg or my life," Odom said. "And I'd rather lose my leg and keep my life."

The prospects of getting back into sports drove Odom to work extra hard in therapy. In 2001, he was nominated to carry the Olympic torch and passed it off to cyclist Lance Armstrong in Austin, Texas.

"I kind of took that torch like my championship trophy that I beat cancer," Odom said.

Every player on the Amp 1 team has a story to tell about how they came to be where they are today, and every story includes a love for basketball. Davis has a story similar to Odom's. Also an osteosarcoma survivor, Davis had to give up his leg to survive.

"By hearing Scott's story, it just motivated me even more," Davis said.

Amp 1 has brought together a group of like-minded individuals who want to do what they love and prove those who doubted them wrong. They also hope to bring amputees into the mainstream, so when new amputees go out in public they are accepted and not perceived to be different from any other person.

"This is what I feel like I'm meant to do," Odom said. "It's more than basketball. We're going to shake up the sports world."

Amp 1, a play on the popular traveling streetball team And 1, will reunite next in Mattituck, N.Y., on March 6.

The team is still in its beginning stages, but it has dedicated players. Brian Vincent, a chef in San Diego, who was born without his left leg below the knee and a club foot on his right leg, has the popular Michael Jordan "Jumpman" logo tattooed on his right leg. But instead of Jordan having two regular legs, it depicts one of the legs being a prosthesis.

"I really believe in it," Vincent said. "That's why I have it."