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Maxwell Fornah runs down the field after a loose soccer ball. An opposing player is also chasing it. The two players get to the ball at almost the same time.

Fornah arrives first. His opponent slides across the ground to knock the ball away from Fornah. But Fornah does a quick dance step, and the opposing player narrowly misses.

Fornah then quickly dribbles downfield, and with a mighty blast, he boots the ball toward the center of the field. His teammate Amadu Kamara then heads the ball past the keeper into the net. Goal!

The players celebrate the score in a surprising way. They toss their metal crutches into the air and hop happily toward one another with open arms. Each player has only one leg.

Fornah and Kamara are not your typical soccer players. They play for the Sierra Leone Single Amputee Sports Club. Their stories are about tragedy and triumph.

Ten Years of Unrest

Sierra Leone is a struggling nation on the western coast of Africa. The United Nations once called it the poorest country in the world.

During the 1990s, rebels tried, but failed, to overthrow the government in Sierra Leone. The government and rebels signed a peace agreement in 1999. During the fighting, the rebels hurt civilians.

As the rebels moved from village to village, they took young boys and forced them to fight. About 50,000 people died in the war, and the rebels injured about 100,000 more. Among the victims was Fornah, who lost his leg during a rebel attack on his school.

Two other players on the soccer team, Foday Dumboya and Jabatie Mambu, were also victims of the rebels. Dumboya lost his leg, and Mambu lost a hand when rebels invaded his small village.

Not Looking Back

The four men are amputees because each has lost a limb. In fact, all the players are victims of the conflict. Fornah and the others formed a soccer club. Members say the skills they have learned from soccer are giving their lives new purpose. They are now playing other amputee soccer clubs.

“Many of our players live in extreme poverty. They are a constant reminder of a horrific conflict most people want to forget, . . .” Matt Banks, the team's manager, told photographer Adam Nadel. “We are here to show Sierra Leoneans and the rest of the world what these men are capable of becoming.”

Playing by the Rules

Since most players on the Sierra Leone soccer team are missing a leg, they have to run up and down the field with the aid of crutches.

Rules state that players can advance the ball only with their legs. Referees will call a foul if a player uses a crutch to “kick” the ball. Players cannot wear prostheses, or artificial limbs, when they are on the field. Goalkeepers can have two feet but most have only one hand. That is why two-legged Mambu plays that position. “The sport is just another way of showing that we can get on with life and be normal,” he said.

Rising to the Challenge

Fourteen members of the team flew to Great Britain to play soccer. A British group called Action for Children in Conflict sponsored the trip. For most players, the trip was their first journey outside their tiny country.

One Sierra Leone player said, “No one will help us, so we realized we have to work together as a team, on and off the field, to improve our lives.”