By Chris Fish
MELBOURNE BEACH - U.S National Amputee Soccer Team member and Cocoa Beach resident Yousef Irshaid said he isn't trying to inspire others by overcoming his disability.
"People will tell me I am inspiring, but I am not trying to inspire anyone," he said. "I'm just trying to be like everyone else, but, when you get to the point of looking like everyone else, you start to look different and better. If I kick the ball, people think I am really good, but I just see myself as doing what an able body player does."
Mr. Irshaid, the Jordan native who was born with a birth defect leaving him without a right leg, began playing soccer 15 years ago when he first moved to the United States. At first, he played basketball in a wheelchair, but said he one day decided to step onto the field and play, improving as time went on and earning respect from able-body players.
"You get more attention. When I take the ball from someone, they will say they don't know what to do because of the crutch I use," he said. "But, when I miss the ball, I hear people screaming left and right at me. On the inside, I am smiling because they know I (am capable of playing,) That's what I want to reach."
Almost every Sunday at 5 p.m., Mr. Irshaid and a group of athletes throughout the community meet at Flutie Field in Melbourne Beach to play pick-up games.
"I've been playing with Yousef for about 10 years," said Sean Ortiz, Brevard County resident and participate in the Flutie Field scrimmages. "We treat him like everyone else. He gets pushed around and gets knocked down just like all of the other guys. He plays great, especially when he does the back kicks, flying through the air."
Mr. Irshaid began playing for the U.S. National Amputee Soccer Team eight years ago, but said the team has had financial problems in the past.
"There is hardly any funding for soccer for able-bodies, so imagine someone who is an amputee who wants to play it," he said. "People with disabilities often think of playing basketball or rugby, so a lot of people don't consider soccer as an option."
Last month, the U.S. Soccer Federation recognized the National Amputee Soccer Team as a soccer federation, so Mr. Irshaid said he hopes to see the team playing more games soon.
Since joining the national team in 2006, goalkeeper Eric Westover from Myrtle Beach, S.C., has played with Mr. Irshaid.
"He is a great guy, and a great player," he said. "It's really great to see him get some recognition."