Soccer. Football. Fútbol. Calcio.
No matter what the sport is called, it manages to capture the hearts of billions around the world. From the beaches of Rio to the cobbled streets of Milan to the airy parks of New York City, soccer truly is the world’s game.
Despite this, there are still undeniable issues with accessibility in the sport. However, one recent event hosted at the University of Michigan served to begin breaking one barrier in particular: the barrier for amputees.
On Oct. 22, the University of Michigan Adaptive Sports and Fitness Club, in collaboration with the United States Amputee Football Federation (USAFF), hosted its first ever Amputee Soccer Camp to grow the sport of amputee soccer in Michigan and the Midwest. The camp was helmed by current Michigan student and USAFF board member Emily Eitzman, who was spurred to action on behalf of the amputee soccer community by her former soccer coach, Mackenzie Gilmore, who is now president of the USAFF.
“Coach Mackenzie, one of my very first travel soccer coaches, became involved in coaching amputee soccer in Texas,” Eitzman said via email. “She saw my passion for giving back to my communities through sports and asked if I would be interested in helping her in her mission to increase awareness and accessibility to amputee soccer throughout the nation and globally. I immediately said yes.”
Eitzman has been actively involved with USAFF ever since, working on camps, fundraising and forging connections to grow the sport worldwide. One of the highlights of her experience was attending and organizing camps at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand this past summer.
But despite all she had done to that point, even globally, Eitzman still had one goal before her Michigan graduation: to host a camp in Ann Arbor.
“I began working on the logistics of the camp several months ago, and I was thrilled to see it come to life,” Eitzman said. “The interest in the camp was beyond my expectations. I received emails from people throughout the Midwest.”
Twenty-five individuals attended the camp. The diversity of the players reflected Eitzman’s goals of expanding the sport: experience levels ranged from novices to US national team players; ages ranged from small children to adults; locality ranged from Ann Arbor to four hours away. The participants started by adjusting to playing on crutches and warming up, then completed drills focused on basic soccer skills such as passing, dribbling and defending. Finally, they branched off into teams and played a game.
The camp was a resounding success among attendees, who shared their positive feedback with Eitzman and the organizational team. In fact, the reception was so strong that there are already plans for a second camp in early 2024, and further practices beyond that.
“We saw really great talent at the camp, especially given it was the first time playing for most participants,” Eitzman said. “I’m confident that with more practice, every amputee that made it out to this camp can take this sport far, whether that means playing recreationally at camps like these or trying out for competitive teams.”
Much of the appeal of soccer lies in its simplicity: all it takes to get a game going is a ball. However, not everyone has easy access to the sport due to their circumstances, and this is a significant problem for amputees.
But the efforts of Eitzman and her organizational team have undoubtedly helped grow the sport of amputee soccer in the Midwest, and the camp serves as a significant step towards making the world’s most popular sport available to everyone.