COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Retired United States Air Force Technical Sergeant Leonard Anderson didn't let the loss of his forearm and most of his other hand stop him from playing competitive softball.
Anderson, a Chester, South Carolina native, almost died when an IED exploded in Afghanistan. Anderson and his wounded warriors amputee teammates are returning to Columbia this weekend to play in a softball exhibition.
"I didn't hit very well in front of a bunch of people that I knew, so that kind of makes me want to drive a little harder to hit a lot better this time," Anderson said of the team's last visit to Columbia in November 2015. Several members of his family, along with friends, attended the game.
The Louisville Slugger Warriors play in some of the most competitive softball tournaments in the country. These aren't beer-league guys playing on the weekends. They're playing against the best players in the game.
"The whole stigma of disabled vs. non-disabled and staying, kind of, within those categories, you know, we're breaking those boundaries -- or try to break them -- on a competitive level," he said. "It's kind of a fine line because they respect who they're playing. They respect what we've done but they're trying to beat us."
"It's nice to be able to play at a competitive level again, after injury, to be able to prove to ourselves that we can still play with the best of them," said Retired Army Sergeant and Louisiana native Lonnie Gaudet. He lost his right leg below the knee when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan.
"It gives a sense of accomplishment to know that I can still walk on the same field as these guys," he said.
Among the teams Anderson and Gaudet will be playing against this weekend is the University of South Carolina Softball alumni.
"It's a higher level of softball than we're used to," said Gaudet, who, along with Anderson, was a member of the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball team who visited Columbia last year. "Playing on this team is a privilege, and motivational."
Both Gaudet and Anderson say the team enjoys inspiring others.
"It's very uplifting to see other injured individuals that get motivation or inspiration from seeing us play because that's the whole reason we do it," Gaudet said. "We want to be able to prove to people that there's more to life than just having an injury and living with whatever you feel you're dealt. You can go out and get what you want regardless of the situation."
"It's really cool to know that, you know, that some people that I'm connected with from the past and present, they're actually getting a lot out of it, whether it's our actual intention or not, we always try to inspire people," said Anderson.
Anderson said he has a few injured friends, including one in a wheelchair, who have turned to him for inspiration.
"You know that you have friends that are actually looking up to you -- for lack of a better term -- you know, that kind of pushes them through the next day to get through whatever they're battling."
This summer Anderson won a gold and bronze medal in swimming in the Invictus Games. He hopes his athletic accomplishments can motivate people no matter what challenge they face.
"As long as you take something, we're happy."
"When we see, you know, people light up because we're out there doing something they might not have seen, you know, it's, in turn, just inspirational for us to just push harder," said Gaudet.
The Louisville Slugger Warriors play Joint Base Charleston Friday night at 7 p.m. at Lexington County Baseball Stadium on Ball Park Road. Gates open at 6. Admission is $2 cash only with proceeds going toward the team's travel expenses.
On Saturday, the Warriors play the USC Softball Alumni in a round-robin tournament starting at 10:30 a.m. at Pine Grove Sports Complex on Old Barnwell Road in West Columbia.