In 2006, Henry Sunday, then 21, was coming home with two friends in his native Port Harcourt, Nigeria, when they were hit by a drunken driver. Sunday, a college student, played soccer before the accident, but lost his left leg above the knee. One of his companions died. The other was disfigured.
“I felt my whole life was over,” he said. He worried he would become a second-class citizen and said he heard 99 percent of the disabled in his hometown become homeless.
But he met a doctor with Doctors Without Borders. After he left the hospital, he kept in touch and she put him in contact with a prosthetics company in the United States.
“I’d never traveled from my city,” he said of that first trip to America in 2007. After more surgeries and six months, he returned to Port Harcourt with a new prosthetic leg, but no direction.
“I was confused,” he said, but “I had a dream of coming back to the States.”
He came back to the U.S. in 2009 and started applying to schools.
“I felt like something was missing,” he said. Before the accident, most of his attention was spent on the sport. He had dreams of joining a big league team and was almost there.
“I was very good at it,” he said. The accident changed everything.
He saw a video online of amputees playing soccer. He learned about the American Amputee Soccer League and joined a training session. The game is played on crutches without prosthetics, so Sunday learned how to run on crutches and tried out for the team. He is now the starting midfielder.
It’s given him a chance to travel the country and meet other amputees. He often trains with two-legged soccer players and also travels with the team for clinics with Wounded Warriors.
Sunday is now living in Spokane Valley, attending Spokane Falls Community College in the orthotics and prosthetics program. He’s still on the U.S. team, preparing to go to Mexico this fall for the 2014 Amputee Soccer World Cup.
Each team member must raise about $8,000 to fund the trip. To do this, he’s set up a page with gofundme.com.
But his life isn’t just about soccer. He hopes to return to Nigeria someday to help amputees. He also hopes to change minds.
“Every day, I lost a lot of friends,” he said of the time of his injury. He hopes to return and show that though he lost his leg, he is still the same person.
He also dreams of finding other amputees around Port Harcourt to start his own soccer team.
But until then, he’s gearing up for the World Cup. The sport has recently been added as a Paralympic sport and will be contested for the first time in 2020.
“Hopefully, if I’m still in shape, I’ll go,” he said.
It’s been a long journey for Sunday, but he’s learned lessons along the way.
“It doesn’t matter what happens to you, you do what you have to do.”