Handicap does not hinder Melbourne soccer player

By Rob Shelburne
Sports Writer
Hometown News
Melbourne Florida

If you are looking for examples of effort and inspiration in sport, don't turn on ESPN. Just take a ride to Flutie Field in Melbourne Beach and watch Yousef Ishraid play soccer.

Yousef (pronounced "Joseph") is a 32-year-old Melbourne resident from Jordan who works in hotel management for the Hilton chain of hotels.

He has been in this country for 10 years, the last five in Melbourne, where he met his wife of four years, Maria.

Like many in Brevard County, Yousef avails himself of Florida's great climate to spend as much time as he can outdoors playing his favorite sport.

He mixes it up three times a week in pick-up games at Rockledge Park and the fields adjacent to the Flutie Athletic Complex in Melbourne Beach, directing traffic and booting the ball downfield with his powerful left leg; the only useful leg he has.

Yousef was born with a birth defect that left his right leg significantly underdeveloped and half as long as his left leg. He doesn't know the technical name for the condition and he doesn't seem to care. He gets around the field, and everywhere else, just fine using a titanium crutch. But the gregarious striker doesn't consider himself disabled.

"We can all think and choose for ourselves," he said. "You are only disabled if somebody else thinks and chooses for you."

"One Crutch" Irshaid trains with the US National Amputee Soccer team in Delaware

Like so many millions of people before him, Yousef came to the U.S. looking for better opportunity. He said handicapped people are viewed much differently in his native Jordan, and despite playing wheelchair volleyball, basketball and tennis for the Jordanian National Team, he felt he would not reach his full potential if he stayed there.

"People give you the chance over here," he said. "That's one of the things that make this such a great place to be. Here, if you are handicapped and want to get a job, you can get a job. It's not so easy back home."

Yousef makes it look easy. Working his way around the soccer field with remarkable agility and confidence, his strength and balance are as evident and as sound as anyone else on the field.

"That's how I am different," said Yousef, breathless and spent after a mad rush at goal. "I am being different by doing the same things everybody else does."

Dean Pekmezian of Melbourne Beach coaches children's soccer. He has known Yousef for several years and played in many pick-up games with him at Flutie.

I sometimes struggle to teach them the intangibles like creativity and determination," he said. "Rather than turn to the set plays and structured flow of the recent World Cup, I find it is a lot easier, and more effective, to have them watch Yousef."

Yousef said he looked into surgery to help correct his condition and tried using a prosthetic leg at one point.

It was uncomfortable so I let it go," he said of the artificial limb. "It wasn't me. I want to be the way I am."

After meeting Yousef, it is not his handicap you remember most. Nor is it the fact he can perform the way he does in spite of it.

What remains with you is the strong handshake, and the unyielding confidence with which he goes about his business. His champion's attitude and courage will continue to serve him as he pursues his true goal of working with handicapped children, helping them achieve their goals through sports and be different by doing the things everybody else does.

"It does no good to just wish," Yousef said. "Don't wish. Do. That's what I would say to a child with a handicap. And never give up."

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