COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Before they take the field at the University of South Carolina Softball Stadium Friday, two members of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team met with patients at Palmetto Health Children's Hospital Thursday. They brought along the team mascot, Azza, a former war dog who survived an explosion in Afghanistan that took the hand of her handler, Leonard Anderson.
Anderson is a native of Chester, SC, and a member of the team. Army veteran and Louisiana native Lonnie Gaudet was the other team member who visited the hospital.
The team also invited a participant of its annual softball camp for kids, 11-year-old Jen Castro, to accompany them in Columbia.
"Probably if I didn't go to the camp then I wouldn't be the same person I am today," she said. "They teach you a lot more than softball. They taught me a bunch of things. Have courage, be brave. They taught me how to tie my shoes, how to do one-handed pushups. They changed my whole batting swing arrangement. It's just been really cool."
Part of Castro's experience was a visit Wednesday with the University of South Carolina Softball Team. She got to practice with the team and although she's from New Fairfield, CT, she says she may become a Gamecocks fan.
"That was awesome," she said. "I didn't expect that to happen."
Castro has been made an honorary member of the team and is throwing out the first pitch at the game Friday night. And although the team is made up of battle-hardened, macho veterans, she relates to them.
"They're like 20 more older brothers than I have now and it's just really fun."
Among some of the other lessons she's learned from them: "Just don't give up. Keep on trying because there's a lot that you could do out there," she said. "I learned don't be ashamed of what you have. There's an advantage sometimes because if I wasn't missing a limb then I wouldn't have gone to the camp and met everyone and done all of that."
The Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team is made up of veterans who have lost limbs. They travel the nation playing exhibition games and motivating people who have disabilities.
The game Friday is at the University of South Carolina Softball Stadium in Columbia. The opening ceremony starts at 6 p.m. Game one features the University of South Carolina softball alumni. Game two features local first responders.
Admission is free but donations will be accepted.
Fun4All, a Midlands group dedicated to providing outdoor activities to people with disabilities, organized the event.
Animal Planet was filming a program on military working dogs the day of the explosion that injured Anderson and Azza. Click here to watch Glory Hounds.