The season opener for Parkland Buddy Sports commemorating the 12th year of soccer was anything but ordinary last weekend.
The program has offered organized sports to area special-needs youths for more than a decade, and this year’s opening-day festivities honored Retired Staff Sgt. Brian Mast of the U.S. Army’s Joint Special Operations Command to kick off this season’s play at John Quigley Park.
As someone who now has special needs himself because of being injured while on duty in the Middle East a few years ago, Mast understands the importance and necessity of sports programs for disabled youths.
“Having programs like Parkland Buddy Sports continue to show me the possibilities, and I know I’ll like being part of a program that embraces youths who are disabled and want to be involved in sports,” said Mast, whose Parkland home will be ready for him to move into next spring. It will have been made to accommodate his needs by helpingahero.org.
Mast’s remarkable story of courage and patriotism began quite awhile ago. After 9-11, he was called up for a year of active duty, which turned permanent, serving 12 honorable years. He initially served as Airborne Infantry, followed by being a member of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal, and in September 2010 while in Afghanistan, he suffered wounds that resulted in him having both legs amputated. But Mast takes it in stride and now looks more toward his possibilities as opposed to his limitations, and says he is blessed to be able to work every day from 9 to 5.
“When I woke up in the hospital (after surgery) I was thinking that I’d never get to do anything with my son again. But programs like Parkland Buddies are able to get me out there and have some sense of normalcy,” said Mast, who now has two sons. “I now have learned to play catch outside.”
And according to Jeb Niewood, president and founder of Parkland Buddy Sports, bringing Mast’s story of bravery to the program can help create a more positive environment for everyone involved.
“Parkland Buddy Sports is about inspiring people to exceed their perceived limitations. Our motto is ‘no limits,’ and nobody exemplifies that spirit and philosophy more than Brian,” Niewood said. “He has sacrificed so much for so many and refuses to be defined by the battlefield injuries that have altered his life.”
Mast has received the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, the Army Commendation Medal for Valor, the Purple Heart Medal and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.
“Brian is a hero, a role model, and an incredible teacher for our players, student volunteers and families,” Niewood added. “We’re blessed to have him as a part of Parkland Buddy Sports.”