Reprinted with Permission

Back in the game he loves

Robert's Goal
Robert Spotswood of Mountain Brook, left, uses forearm crutches to control the ball as he plays in a game for the U.S. national amputee soccer team.

Tragic accident can't keep Mtn. Brook teen away from soccer

News staff writer

Robert Spotswood lay in a Carraway Methodist Medical Center bed, his right foot gone as a result of a horrific auto accident.

The 16-year-old had been a soccer player good enough to earn a spot on the state select team for his age group. His teammates visited him and as they headed for the door, it began to sink in that soccer, the love of his life, was leaving with them.

"Watching them go away, I thought I'd never get to play with them again," recalled Spotswood, now 17. "That really hit me hard."

But as one door closed, another opened. Less that a year after the accient cost him his limb, Spotswood is again playing soccer. He's a member of the U.S. national amputee soccer team.

"That's something I could never dream of doing, to actually wear a United States national uniform," he said. "That's something I would never have been able to do before my accident."

Spotswood began playing soccer when he was 6. It was his passion.

"I liked using my feet," Spotswood said. "I had played basketball and tennis. I was ranked third in the state in tennis for a while. But in soccer I had the most fun."

He played first for a Mountain Brook club team and later for a Vestavia squad.

"Two years ago I tried out for the state team and made it," Spotswood said. "I traveled with the state team to Rio de Janeiro and Brazil for training prior to the accident. It was the experience of a lifetime."

His lifetime almost ended Aug. 3, 1998. After drinking two to four beers, he "out of stupidity" drove a friend along Brookwood Road to another friend's house.

"It's just a cursed road," he said of Brookwood. "There have been lots of accidents on that road."

He wrapped his father's green Range Rover around a tree at a speed of 60 to 80 mph. While his friend escaped permament injury, Spotswood said he came close to dying. A human body has 16 pints of blood pumping through it; doctors pumped 18 pints into Spotswood to keep him alive.

"I broke almost every bone in my body. My arms, my ribs, my lungs collapsed, my pelvis split open, I had third degree burns on my leg, fractured my eye socket," he rattled off. I certainly was going to bleed to death if not for a doctor who rushed to the scene."

That doctor and Carraway's Lifesaver helicopter helped save the teen's life. But nothing could save his right foot, which was severed in the accident.

"They actually were going to amputate at the hip so I would have no limb at all," he said. "The orthopedic surgeon decided that was unnecessary so they amputated just above the knee."

Spotswood decided not to give up on his passion. Six months after his accident he found a cousin of his favorite sport while surfing the Internet - a web site for the amputee soccer.

Rick Hofmann, Executive Director of the American Ampuitee Soccer Association, said Spotswood's inspired work earned him a spot on the national team. No small feat considering the differences between this game and able-bodied soccer.

Spotswood uses a prosthesis most of the time, but not when he plays. Field players most be without one leg; goaltenders must be without one arm.

Players make their way across the field with forearm crutches. They are less mobile than two-legged players, but there's still a great deal of agility and speed in the game,whole Hofmann said.

"Even an accomplished two-legged layer, when he becomes a one-legged player, has to all of a sudden adapt to using both sides of one foot alone and he has to get used to playing the whole game essentially on the upper body," Hofmann said.

Spotswood, by far the youngest member of the U.S. unit, demonstrated the skill he's developed during the first European Open tournament in Kiev.

Most thrilling for Spotswood, who attends a prep school in New Hampshire, was scoring his first international goal.

I was the leading scorer on my high school team and my club team in Birmingham," he said. "I had hundreds of goals but that one goal defeats them all.

"My entire life what I had worked for was taken away and now it's back and it's at the ultimate level. It's inexplicable."

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