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Support group keeps amputees moving, inspired

Clintonville man heads group that offers physical activities for those who have lost limbs

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RYAN M.L. YOUNG/THISWEEKNEWS
Recreational Amputee Support Group of Central Ohio members (from left) Michael McGrew, Robert Haas, Mary Beth Moore and Dave Coats pose for a portrait Friday, Feb. 21, at Franklin Park's Indoor Adventure Center, home of the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department's therapeutic recreation program. The support group, founded by Haas, works to keep amputees active.
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No one would blame them if they felt sorry for themselves.

Instead, they're taking yoga classes, playing hockey and volleyball, going on nature hikes and learning to shoot a bow and arrow.

The Recreational Amputee Support Group of Central Ohio was launched a little more than a year ago by Clintonville resident Robert Haas to encourage others who have lost a limb to remain almost as active as they were before.

Participation in the wide array of activities the group sponsors and awareness of its existence both are increasing, Haas said last week.

"We're picking up speed because more and more of the physical therapists in the city and the prosthetist (a person who fits artificial limbs to individuals who need them) are learning who we are and what we do," said Haas, whose lower left leg was amputated after he was severely injured in July 2012 while serving in the U.S. Naval Reserves.

While numerous support groups exist for people who have lost hands, feet, arms or legs to injury and accidents, Haas said as best he can determine, there is only one other in the United States that focuses on recreational activities for amputees. It's in Bakersfield, Calif., and has been around a dozen years, he said.

"The program we offer to our amputees is a wellness package," Haas said, along with an alternative to withdrawing from a life that's been abruptly turned upside down.

Haas' world changed forever when he woke up after surgery at a Veterans Administration hospital in Cincinnati to find that, contrary to what he had expected, part of his left leg was gone.

"When I lost my leg, my family was there to support me, and my friends," he recalled. "The physical support, the mental support came from other amputees."

That's what provided Haas with the motivation to start the Recreational Amputee Support Group of Central Ohio.

"We're just one call away," he said. "No one has to look very far to find an amputee to talk to and no one has to go very far to find a recreational activity.

"What it means to me is that no one goes through that level of uncertainty and loss that I went through."

It's one thing, Haas said, for a doctor with two legs to tell someone suddenly with only one that many activities remain possible.

It's another thing for someone with one leg engaged in those activities to lead by example and encouragement, he said.

Haas said he's seen amputees blossom after participating in support-group activities, such as free classes offered at Yoga on High or wall climbing at Scioto Audubon Metro Park.

"It's like handing a kid candy for the first time," said Haas, the co-facilitator of the group along with Mike McGrew. "They themselves are becoming their ombudsmen for the program and going out and recruiting more amputees."

Haas said several members of the group, which includes many veterans, hope to form a team for the Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon in October. They might not complete the course until well after the other participants, "but we'll finish," Haas vowed.

"That's the key," he said, "to get the amputees out of the bleachers and onto the playing field."

For more information about the group and its activities, visit arsgoco.org.

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