16-year veteran who lost his leg at Fort Hood joined US National Amputee Soccer Team

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston provides the place and Ollin Athletics & Sports Medicine delivers the space for our national soccer team to train.

"It's been great," admitted captain Nicolai "Nico" Calabria. "We love coming to Houston. We'll be back."

But this U.S. national squad is not your normal soccer team.

"Normal is boring," Robert Ferguson said.

This weekend, the American Amputee Soccer Association brought its inaugural national team training camp to the city as the squad prepares to qualify for this year's Amputee Soccer World Cup in Turkey. So what exactly is amputee soccer?

"The fastest game on one leg," Calabria explained. "It's a beautiful game. It's still very much what people think of when they think of soccer."

Calabria, who was born without one of his legs, proved in front of our ABC13 cameras his one foot is better than most.

The sport is played by amputee athletes. There's six players and one goalkeeper per team. The men and women on the field, with the exception of the keeper, use forearm crutches.

Ferguson is a Houstonian. In 2016, the 16-year veteran of our U.S. armed forces joined the team to represent his country in another way.

"I told the team they have no idea what it means for me to stand and represent my country," Ferguson revealed.

Ferguson, who played semi-pro soccer for multiple years in Europe, lost his leg during a training exercise at Fort Hood. He told us amputee soccer gives him much more than just an opportunity to get back on this field.

"This sport saved my life," Ferguson admitted. "I went to a very dark place after being discharged from the Army. Used my painkillers just to get through the day. I also had a lot of issues with alcohol, like so many veterans deal with these days. I found amputee soccer by accident, and it gave me back part of my life."

Ferguson, who founded the Lone Star Adaptive Soccer Association locally, now joins his national teammates in trying to grow the game in the U.S. Amputee soccer is not part of the Paralympic Games and does fall under the U.S. Soccer Federation umbrella.

"We're hoping to become a Paralympic sport so players can earn a stipend and take more time off work," Calabria said. "Turkey, for example, has professional amputee soccer and they're the best team in the world for that reason. We're hoping to build that out in the United States as well."

This soccer field gives amputee athletes a place in team sports, but there's another place they want to go, and it's not just this year's World Cup.

Anyone interested in helping the U.S. National Amputee soccer team fund its quest to qualify for and compete in the World Cup can visit this PayPal link provided by the organization. Tax receipts can be provided if a name and state are provided in the comments section.

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