Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
More Than a Softball Game
Local Wounded Warrior Hopes to Inspire Others
On May 16, 2006, retired Marine Master Sgt. William “Spanky” Gibson was leading a squad of Marines in Ramadi, Iraqi on a house-to-house search for insurgents when a sniper’s bullet ripped through his left knee. The bullet completely shattered his knee and doctors were forced to amputate his left leg to save his life.
Despite losing a leg, Gibson stayed positive and set the ambitious goal of returning to Iraq. After several surgeries and rigorous rehabilitation, Gibson deployed to Iraq in February 2008 and made history by becoming the first above-the-knee amputee to return to combat.
Today, Gibson lives in his hometown of Pryor, Okla. and travels around the country as an Executive Consultant for Tandus Flooring, a flooring company based in Dalton, Ga. He is also a Veteran to Veteran Mentor for the Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit set up to provide immediate financial support for injured and critically ill members of the military and their families.
In his spare time, he also plays on the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team. On Saturday, Gibson will take the field at Love-Hatbox Field in Muskogee with his fellow Wounded Warriors for a friendly game against the VA Softball Team, which consists of players from the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center (JCMVAMC) and Muskogee VA Regional Office.
Gibson, who receives his primary care through the JCMVAMC Yellow Team in Muskogee, said he is excited about the opportunity to play in Muskogee.
“It’s amazing because I live in Oklahoma,” he said. “I’m able now to show people in my home communities what our team can accomplish."
He said people who have not seen the team play will be surprised once the game starts.
“They’re going to expect a really neat thing - to see a bunch of amputees come out and play softball,” said Gibson, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1989 and also served in Operation Desert Storm and Somalia. “They’re going to find out that we actually have an awesome team. The VA better be prepared.”
Gibson tried out for the team in 2010 and was later chosen as the Team Captain. During his first year with the team, he played approximately 30 games per year.
“It’s fun,” said Gibson. “Anytime you’re with a group of all amputees and you’re playing a sport or doing an event, it’s a lot of fun.”
He no longer plays with the team full-time, but he does play a few games a year. A few weeks ago, he played with the team in Norfolk, Va. and they won 27-3.
Despite being a former Team Captain, Gibson is humble about his playing ability.
“I consider myself to be a mediocre to average player,” said Gibson, who typically plays catcher. “I’m not a home run hitter. It’s hard to hit home runs as an amputee.”
When he is behind the plate as a catcher, he said he enjoys giving opposing hitters a hard time when they come to the plate.
“My best attribute is being behind home plate and really getting to people through sarcasm and interesting conversation,” he said. “I do some trash talking and mess with them when they come to bat.”
While the game is intended to be a fun time for all involved, Gibson said the game is far more important than a typical sporting event. It’s a chance for the Wounded Warriors to demonstrate that they can lead normal lives, even with the loss of a limb.
“People are going to be surprised what Wounded Warriors can accomplish,” he said. “That’s the best part about it. We want to prove to a lot of people around the country that we’re not necessarily disabled, we just have a limitation. For the most part, everything else in our lives is good.”
Gibson also said he hopes the team will be an inspiration to non-Veterans who are living with an amputation.
“We can step in and influence kids who are amputees or even other people who are going through recovery from an amputation,” said Gibson. “To me, that’s my part of it. I truly enjoy the fun of the game and the sport and getting out and meeting new people. But I also enjoy spreading the word about the importance of getting back to a normal lifestyle.”