Baseball, football, soccer -- nothing slows him down
By Mike Fields MFIELDS@HERALD-LEADER.COM
Adam Bender slips a chest protector over his Astros jersey, buckles a shinguard to his right leg, positions a mask atop his head, grabs his catcher's mitt and hops out of the dugout.
Adam has his game face on. Or at least what passes as a game face for an 8-year-old. His eyes are serious. His freckled nose is crinkled with determination.
It is a cool, breezy Saturday morning at Veterans Park, which is already buzzing with activity. Baseball games are being played on three diamonds within a pop-up of each other. Parents are clustered in and around the stands, chatting and cheering. Players of all ages, wearing uniforms or team T-shirts, swarm the place.
Hardly anybody gives a second glance to the catcher in the Southeastern rookie league deftly playing on one leg.
Adam Bender is just another kid playing ball, which is exactly how his parents, Michelle and Chris, want it.
"I was a little hesitant when we first brought him up here for baseball," Michelle said. "I thought his spirit might be crushed if he got out every time. Then I thought, who am I to micromanage his feelings? He's going to have to learn how to deal with this stuff.
"The more I shelter him, the more he'll think, 'I'm fragile.' I don't think I'll ever tell him he can't do something."
Adam is amazing to watch. He takes his position behind the plate, resting on his right knee.
When a runner rounds third looking to score, Adam jumps up and holds his ground.
He suffered a mild concussion on one collision and missed a practice or two. But he recovered and was ready for action in the next game. At one point this season he led the rookie league in put-outs at home.
At bat, his athletic skill and balance allow him to take a full swing, and he usually makes contact. He hops to first base as quickly as he can. If he's safe, he uses crutches to run the bases. When he gets thrown out, he hops dejectedly back to the dugout.
He's a competitor, and not just in baseball.
Adam, who lost his left leg to cancer when he was 1, has played soccer for a couple of years. He uses crutches, and is a whirlwind on the field in Centenary United Methodist's "I Am Third" league.
He played YMCA flag football last fall for Bruce Rector, who has coached against Adam's baseball team.
At first, Rector wasn't sure if Adam could play football. "Then I slept on it. Having seen him play baseball, I knew he'd find a way to make it work," Rector said. "Sure enough, we put him at quarterback (using no crutches) and used a shotgun snap. He threw a lot of touchdown passes."
Adam lobbied to line up at receiver at least once so he could have a chance to score. On a conversion play, Adam hopped 5 yards down the field and made a diving catch in the end zone despite being double-covered.
"That's what I mean when I say if you turn him loose, he'll find a way," Rector said.
Adam shyly deflects question about himself. He admits that he "loves baseball" and "loves catching," but he doesn't think he's doing anything out of the ordinary.
Astros coach Dan Wyse said he went out of his way to get Adam on his team "because he's a good kid, a good catcher, and what he brings attitude-wise, he's an inspiration to everybody."
Michelle Bender appreciates the effect her son has on people young and old.
"Adam has helped other kids see that a person with a disability can be fun to hang out with, and play with, and they can still be a part of a community or part of a team. It's developed the kids' compassion.
"And if he can inspire even one family to allow their kid to try something they normally might not try, that's great."
Adam tried using a prosthesis but didn't like it because he felt it slowed him down. He is adamant about not using a wheelchair.
"He wants to play ball like everybody else," Michelle said. "He's always had that 'nobody's going to stop me' attitude."
Chris Bender thinks his son's "attitude and energy" channel naturally into sports. "He pops out of bed at 60 miles an hour and doesn't quit until he collapses at the end of the day. He's always wanted to do everything."
Doing everything that his older brother Steven and younger sister Morgan do is what pleases Adam's dad the most.
"The best thing about it is the normalcy," Chris said. "There will come a day when Adam will no longer be able to keep up. But he's had some measure of childhood where he's just like everybody else.
"He doesn't have to sit and watch his brother and sister play. He's out there playing with them."
And teaching a life lesson to everybody who's watching.
Rector does motivational speaking and leadership training, and he regularly relates Adam's inspirational story to adults.
"The lesson he teaches is that you need to let talented people with great heart get out there and do their thing," Rector said. "There's no such thing as an insurmountable obstacle for Adam. He's a winner."See video of Adam hitting and playing catcher in a baseball game.