Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Playing wheelchair soccer with a competitive spark

Aaron Masterson, 14, spins his wheelchair for a pass at a recent Tampa Thunder wheelchair soccer practice. The team plays in tournaments against teams from around the world.

DAVID RICE | Special to the Times

Aaron Masterson, 14, spins his wheelchair for a pass at a recent Tampa Thunder wheelchair soccer practice. The team plays in tournaments against teams from around the world.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Aaron Masterson is a natural soccer player despite the fact that he can't use his feet.

The 14-year-old Gulf Middle School student suffers from muscular dystrophy and is unable to walk. That doesn't stop Masterson from doing just about anything he wants, though. Whether it's replacing the tires on his electric wheelchair or storming down the wing for his wheelchair soccer team, the Tampa Thunder, Masterson earns his nickname, "the Spark Plug."

"It's interesting because Aaron spent a year watching his older brother (David) play," Thunder assistant coach Tari Carpenter said. "He had the shortest learning curve of any player I've ever seen. He's already playing at the same level as kids that have been playing for six or seven years. He's brought a spark to the team because they know when he goes in, he's got it."

A few years ago, it became clear that Masterson would no longer be able to walk. Like his 20-year-old brother David, who also has muscular dystrophy, Masterson found himself in a wheelchair.

But instead of feeling shackled, he said the experience was somewhat liberating. As a person with muscular dystrophy, Masterson could never participate in regular sports. He played Special Olympics soccer but found that he wanted more competitiveness. Once he started using a wheelchair, he found the desired competition in wheelchair soccer.

"It was really exciting when I started playing this sport because there is a lot more hitting than the soccer I used to play," said Masterson, who now plays on the same team as his brother. "When you play in a game, it's serious, the other teams are competitive. My favorite part of the game is scoring because it's so exciting. This is a sport I feel like I can play for the rest of my life."

Having sat on the sidelines watching David for a year, Masterson understood wheelchair soccer and the mechanics of it from the moment he sat in the chair. Learning the maneuvers was all there was left to achieve.

"It takes a little time to learn how to move the chair the way you want and to get used to the movement," Masterson said. "I learned a lot from my brother, though, so I caught on fast. We talk about soccer and watch game tape at home so we can learn from mistakes and look for things that work in a game."

The game and the gear are a little different. Each team has four players on the field at a time. The chairs are equipped with bumpers to strike the ball, fans to cool the battery, and smaller wheels in the back so the chairs don't tip back when the players accelerate. No one can use their hands — including the goalie. He must rely on his chair to block the shots.

To his teammates, Masterson is the new guy, but an essential asset to a team that finished second at the Americas Champions Cup this year. Ben Carpenter, 15, is a veteran of the team, having played for the Thunder since age 8 and was the MVP of the tournament. He has seen the team change since Masterson's arrival and had nothing but plaudits for the winger.

"He's picked up the game faster than anybody else and made an impact," Carpenter said. "He's scored five or six really big goals over the last year, which is really good for a rookie. We're glad he's on our team."

His infectious energy and positive attitude are things that everyone around the Thunder talks about. None more so than Don Gorman, the team's head coach, who has seen just how determined to be independent Masterson and his brother are.

"These guys amaze me," Gorman said. "I went to over their house one day and Aaron and David were out in their garage like a couple of mad scientists with wheelchair parts everywhere and electric tools. They had propped up their wheelchairs so they could work on them and adjust them however they wanted without the help of an able-bodied person.

"They simply blow my mind."

.Fast facts

A growing sport

Wheelchair soccer has grown in popularity in recent years. New wheelchair technology has allowed the game to simulate real soccer more accurately. To see video of wheelchair soccer and the Tampa Thunder, visit www.tampathunder.org. The Thunder would like to thank the Tampa Bay community for helping them raise $15,000 to make the trip to Canada for the Americas Champions Cup, where they finished second.

Playing wheelchair soccer with a competitive spark 11/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 7:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. All-eyes photo gallery: Florida State Seminoles loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack

    News

    View a gallery of images from the Florida State Seminoles 27-21 loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack Saturday in Tallahassee. The Seminoles will face Wake Forest on Saturday, Sept. 30 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

    Florida State Seminoles fans sing the fight song during the Florida State Seminoles game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on September 23, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.  At the half, North Carolina State Wolfpack 17, Florida State Seminoles 10.
  2. Encounters: Trial by storm for a rookie principal

    K12

    DUNEDIN — When he nodded off to sleep, the hallway lights outside Michael Vasallo's office were on, so the sudden darkness woke him.

    The glow of his desk phone dimmed.

    Michael Vasallo, right, the first-year principal at Dunedin Highland Middle School, talks with the school's head plant operator Clint Case near the back-up generator on campus. The generator failed just as Hurricane Irma passed through Pinellas County, making for a stressful night. The experience made Vasallo long to return to his regular job, educating middle schoolers. [COLEEN WRIGHT   |   Times]


  3. Who is in charge during a hurricane? Hillsborough County and Tampa still can't agree

    Hurricanes

    TAMPA — Who has the authority to order an evacuation during a hurricane?

    Mayor Bob Buckhorn says he has evacuation authority.
  4. Gators rally past Kentucky, streak hits 31

    Blogs

    LEXINGTON, Ky. — For the second week in a row, Florida found itself storming the field in a game that came down to the last second. A 57-yard field-goal attempt by Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis came just a few feet short of making history and snapping a 30-year losing streak, as the No. 20 Gators escaped a …

    Florida wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Lexington, Ky.
  5. Pen makes it way too interesting as Rays hang on for 9-6 win

    Blogs

    A couple of home runs provided the news pegs of the night for the Rays, but it was more topical to talk about what nearly happened as they hung on for a 9-6 win over the Orioles.

    Lucas Duda's three-run homer in the third inning was the Rays' record-breaking 217th of the season, as well as his …

    Lucas Duda's three-run homer in the third inning was the Rays' record-breaking 217th of the season.