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Softball game's no match for war amputees

Members of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team

Members of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team stand during the national anthem. (Aug. 4, 2012) Photo Credit: Adrian Fussell

When Army Capt. Ben Harrow came to visit his family on Long Island, he wasn't expecting to go to a softball game -- especially one in which some of the players were amputees from the military.

Harrow, 31, grew up in Great Neck and is now living in Washington, with his wife, Gina, while he recovers in Walter Reed Medical Center. He lost his legs in May when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.

Harrow sat in a dugout at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor, one of the dozens of spectators at Saturday's game, where the national Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team played a team of Long Islanders, including a 9/11 first responder, town officials and players and coaches from the Sag Harbor Whalers.

It was the first game on Long Island for the Wounded Warriors, a team of former and one current member of the Army and Marines, after playing 54 games around the country.

"It is hope and motivation," Harrow said about watching the men who took the field. "This isn't the end and there is still a lot for me to do."

Once a hockey player, he dreams of lacing up the skates again.

Harrow wasn't the only one inspired. Many, from those watching the game to those who spent hours fielding and hitting the softball, felt an array of emotions, including pride, encouragement and sadness.

"It is amazing they brought this here to the community," said Karen Ruben, whose husband and son played on the local team. The Rubens are from Manhattan but have a home in East Hampton.

Ruben said her late father served in the Vietnam War and taught her children that "freedom isn't free." After meeting some of the amputee players, she said her children learned the true meaning of that lesson.

Sept. 11, 2001, played a large role in the life of several of the players.

When he was 18 years old, Dan Lasko signed up for the Marines and he was sworn in the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, before two airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center. "Just seeing that . . . we knew we were going," he recalled.

Lasko, now 29, of Pennsylvania, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2004. About a month later, on April 24, he was riding in a convoy when two IEDs were detonated. He lost his left leg below the knee.

"It was like slow motion," he said, recalling the dense smoke and the panic and pain he felt when he saw his leg.

But about eight years later, Lasko is running marathons and participating in triathlons, as well as playing for the Warriors.

On the local team, Bill Ingram, 51, a Smithtown firefighter, had been a first responder on Sept. 11, 2001. That night, he went from firehouse to firehouse, compiling a list of the missing.

"It is an absolute honor," he said of playing against the Wounded Warriors. "These guys have been carrying the torch since 9/11."

And the final score: 18 to 5, with the Warriors taking the victory.

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