For nine years after he lost his left leg in Iraq, Army veteran and former college athlete Jon Herst was a couch potato, convinced he’d never participate in sports again.
“I was of the mindset that I was worthless, that my life was over,” he said.
Then Herst, 37, discovered the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, which is on Long Island this weekend playing two games. The Kentucky man hopes he and his teammates inspire others with prosthetic limbs to look beyond their physical disabilities.
“Softball is the vehicle to be able to change people’s lives and perspectives and mindsets — to get their confidence back, so they know, ‘I may have to change or alter what I do in life, but it doesn’t mean I can’t do it,’ ” said Herst, who held the rank of staff sergeant.
Herst participated in a home-run derby Saturday morning at the St. Joseph’s College Outdoor Field Complex in Patchogue. Amputee veterans hit 17 home runs in 14 minutes.
The Wounded Warrior team played a Suffolk County Police Memorial Fund team at the Moriches Athletic Complex at 4 p.m. Saturday and will play Friends of WWAST at the Medford Athletic Complex at noon Sunday.
This is the third Long Island trip for the team since 2012, said Joe Bartumioli of Huntington, who coordinates local team appearances.
Dennis Wince, the executive director, said the 27 team members — who come from across the country — can teach anyone enduring physical or mental challenges that “whatever life throws at you problem-wise, there are ways to overcome it.”
Sitting in the stands was Marco Daidone, 13, of Bayport. He has a prosthetic right leg because of the effects of osteosarcoma, a cancer that begins in the bones.
Watching the amputee veterans run the bases and hit home runs motivated him even more to excel in his chosen sports: swimming and golf.
“I feel if they can do it, I can do it,” Daidone said. “I strive to do what everyone else does. Just because I have a prosthetic leg doesn’t limit me.”
Herst said joining the team in 2014 transformed his life. He now bikes, runs, swims and golfs. He also enjoys the camaraderie of a team composed of veterans who can understand what each other is going through, physically and mentally.
Matias Ferreira, 27, of Merrick, a Marine corporal who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan, said that after his wounds from an improvised explosive device, he couldn’t imagine himself running the bases in a softball game.
Ferreira now not only plays softball, he hit four home runs in two minutes Saturday morning. He said he has applied to join the Suffolk County Police Department and has passed the physical exams.
“I didn’t think it would have been allowed for a veteran amputee to be a police officer,” Ferreira said. “I know now there are a lot of opportunities out there.”