Amputee Athletes Help Students Learn To Overcome Obstacles

By Janee Law

Braden Ciszek (no. 31) shields the basketball away from AMP1 players Robert Rodriguez and Nick Pryor at Northport Middle School on Friday.

Braden Ciszek (no. 31) shields the basketball away from AMP1 players Robert Rodriguez and Nick Pryor at Northport Middle School on Friday.

A loud roar bellowed from the gymnasium at Northport Middle School last Friday as students witnessed the school’s boys basketball team battle against AMP1, a basketball team comprised of amputee players who travel the country to visit schools and share with students their stories of overcoming obstacles.

“It’s important for us to show kids that, although we may have a disability, we can do whatever we put our minds to by keeping a positive mental attitude,” Robert Rodriguez, AMP1 east coast president and a player on the team, said. “No matter what your situation in life is, a good attitude can get a good outcome.”

For two days last week, the group attended gym classes throughout the school days to share inspiring stories. On Friday, the team also participated in basketball games against the middle school’s boys basketball squad.

The athletes played a total of three games, and each game rotated different members of the Tigers team.

The first game saw seventh graders Evan Burke, Braden Ciszek, Tim Kirchner, Peter Simpson, Nick Watts and Owen Zimmerman take to the court. The score of the first game ended up 31-16, with AMP1 prevailing.

“The children played great,” Rodriguez said. “They were focused and attentive and they tried really hard.”

Rodriguez, of Bay Shore, lost his right leg below the knee due to a birth defect called fibular hemimelia. Although kids say “we inspire them, they’re actually inspiring us,” he said.

Brooklyn resident Patrick Filosa, another AMP1 player, said he became a below-the-knee amputee on his left leg by decision. Multiple surgeries to treat a rare disease called Neurofibromatosis, which rendered his left leg shorter than the right, ultimately led him to make the call.

He said the experience at Northport Middle School was amazing.

“I love what we do, reaching out and giving back to the community,” Filosa said. “Now that I found AMP1, I’m able to do it all over the country so I’m truly blessed.”

This is the first time the school hosted an event like this, said Mike Bahr, coach of the Tigers’ middle school team.

“I think it sends a great message to everybody,” Bahr said. “We’re all different on how we handle adversity and respond to negative things.

He continued, AMP1 “wanted to turn it around to make it a positive. If you get knocked down, you get right back up and that’s something we always taught the kids anyway as a coach.”

Bahr said he hopes the school can continue to host the AMP1 program in the future.

AMP1 founders Scott Odom and Tyler Hyatt started out in 2009. Last year, they founded an AMP1 team in New York. The New York team visit two schools per month, Rodriguez said.

“When kids say we helped them, that’s everything,” Rodriguez said. “It makes us feel like we’re doing something important.

“If we can affect one kid out of the thousands of kids that are here, then my job is done.”