The woman who brought amputee soccer to Sierra Leone

Dee Malchow, Seattle-area retired nurse and amputee, who introduced amputee soccer to Sierra Leone's amputees

The Flying Stars profiles two founding members of Freetown, Sierra Leone’s amputee soccer/football team . They are their teammates created the first team at the end of that country’s civil war, but where did Bornor and Census hear about amputee soccer?

Remember that football (“soccer” to North Americans) rules Sierra Leone (and most of the world). Every child plays it. Adults devoutly follow U.K. Premier League games beamed from satellite TV. They wear the jerseys of their favourite players, like Canadians adorn the uniforms of hockey stars. But in early 2001, the civil war in Sierra Leone was completing a full, weary decade and amputees like Bornor and Census had gathered from around the country at a refugee camp in the capital of Freetown, overflowing with refugees.

One day in early 2001, their lives changed forever when they met a retired trauma nurse from Shoreline, Washington, there performing mission work. Her name was Dee Malchow. We asked Ms. Malchow to recall that visit and describe its impact on those amputees:

Q: What happened when you met the amputees at that refugee camp in early 2001?

Dee: The amputees were hopeless, lost and discouraged. So, I took off my prosthetic leg and immediately I had their attention. They had never seen a one-legged white woman before! I asked if they had ever played soccer, and they said, “We used to.” I said, “You guys can do it.”

Q: You were one of the creators of amputee soccer. Tell us about your involvement.

Dee:  My involvement began in 1983 when I became a charter member of the original amputee soccer program that began in Seattle. It soon expanded internationally and many Amputee Soccer World Cup tournaments have since been held. I retired from the game in 1992.

Q: Amputee soccer has flourished in Sierra Leone since then. How do you feel about that?

Dee: I am overwhelmed. I am honoured to have the title of Mama Dee, which is like the mother of the team. The game gave them a new level of identity.

Q: Tell us about your own amputation.

Dee:  When I was 19, I experienced an amputation right below my knee from a boating accident. I’m an amputation nurse specialist. Over the past 50 years. I have interacted with over 3,000 amputees through my work at a Seattle trauma center, as well through sports (skiing & soccer), and mission work in Sierra Leone. I also do prosthetic research.

Q: Have you been involved with Sierra Leone since 2001?

Dee: In May, 2009, I co-founded a program to empower disabled women in that country through a Christian ministry called Women of Hope, International. For example, it was focused on Ebola virus avoidance and treatment during that outbreak a few years ago. We want to help Sierre Leonean women become self-sufficient and gain dignity in a country at the bottom (in terms of underdevelopment).

Q: What else have you been doing?

Dee: I’ve published a book about amputation, Alive & Whole ~ Amputation: Emotional Recoveryand I’m a happy grandmother. Currently I am working with a friend, Don Bennett, on a book about Amputee Soccer. He is the official founder of the sport here in the Seattle area in the early 1980’s. I am working on a chapter about amputee soccer in Africa.