Eric Westover never thought he would be on a national soccer team, but this November he will compete in the 2014 World Amputee Football Federation World Cup in Culiacan, Mexico.
Westover lives in Carolina Forest but grew up playing hockey and soccer in Minnesota. In 2006, he joined the U.S. National Amputee Soccer team and has been the team’s starting keeper since.
He suffered a work related injury in 1992 – he kinked a nerve in his right wrist – that caused Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. He was 22.
Westover returned to school following his injury and said he “fell into the theater,” then started his own business in technical theater which involves designing and lighting scenery for staged productions.
“By the time I was 27, I was married, I had my own business that was doing really well,” he said. “I had a house. I had the American dream and then I lost it all.”
In 2002, he said he had tremendous pain and swelling in his right hand and wrist.
Westover said he had five surgeries in the span of a year that, because of CRPS, did more harm than good. Eventually, he went to the Mayo Clinic, by which time he had already began researching amputation.
“While all this is going on, I can’t work,” he said. “I’ve lost my business, I’ve lost my house. I had to sell everything I owned. I had to move back in with my parents.”
Westover said he was still stunned when the doctor at the Mayo Clinic said there was no hope of function returning to his hand.
In 2004, 14 months after deciding amputation was the best option, insurance finally approved the surgery which cut his arm below the elbow.
“Losing my arm has been the biggest blessing of my life,” he said. “So many things have happened in my life that would never have happened if I hadn’t lost my arm.”
Westover, who turned 44 Wednesday, started a non-profit for upper-extremities, a consulting company and began touring the country on speaking engagements.
In 2006, he said he was recruited through Facebook to try out at a training camp in Philadelphia for the U.S. National Amputee Soccer team after team members saw videos of Westover playing soccer.
“I went up to Philadelphia for three days to the training camp and dove around like a lunatic,” he said. “And they liked me. They said, ‘not only do we want you to play, we want you to start.’”
Westover now serves as the volunteer chairman and chief executive officer of the American Amputee Soccer Association and is a volunteer coach with NubAbility Athletics Foundation which mentors kids age 4 to 17 who have a limb difference.
Nick George, who works at Soccer Locker in Myrtle Beach, said he knows Westover’s story because of his boss, Ansel Lovell, and said it’s exciting for the sport in the area to have Westover on a national team. George has worked at Soccer Locker for two years, previously working in the surf shop that shares retail space just south of Myrtle Beach State Park.
He said traffic in the store and interest in soccer in Myrtle Beach seems to be “growing by the season.”
This November will mark a return to the World Cup for the United States which hasn’t had a team compete since 2002, Westover said.
To get there, each player is financing the journey individually because the team has no other funding.
Westover created a page on GoFundMe.com to raise money for the training trips and travel fees to the World Cup in November. One of the training camps will be in Myrtle Beach June 13 - 15.
On Wednesday, Westover had raised $1,005 of his $7,500 goal. To learn more or donate, visit www.gofundme.com/ericsruntothecup.
Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381, or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_akelley.