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This basketball player has a leg up on the competition

Despite being an above-the-knee amputee because of bone cancer as a teenager, the 28-year-old basketball enthusiast gives away nothing on the court against non-disabled opponents.

August 07, 2011|T.J. SIMERS

The three-on-three basketball game on Court 42 began Saturday morning at L.A. Live with Scott Odom drilling a three-pointer.

He and his two teammates had three legs between them, while their foe had the usual six.

No, it wasn't fair, but in time their able-bodied opponents would understand they never really had a chance.

SCOTT ODOM is 28. He grew up dreaming of making it big in sports, and now that he has only one leg, there's a good chance he will.

The first half of his life he was like anyone else, a kid desperately wanting to be accepted like other high school freshmen, and maybe noticed by his football coach and a girl, any girl.

It would have been hard to find someone more active. He was on the go, and sure his kneecap hurt, but he was a kid and the doctors said he was growing.

On Odom's first day of high school, he was shy and nervous and wondering how he might fit in. His mom showed up and he couldn't think of anything worse happening to a 14-year-old, but by nightfall he'd been told he had bone cancer.

And so it started, surgery to implant a port into his chest to help with endless chemotherapy and everything ugly that comes with it. Tests indicated spreading cancer. The family was in a panic until doctors realized the MRI exam results had been read upside down.

A decision still had to be made, a 14-year-old given a week to decide: "Do I have surgery, take out the tumor but no way of knowing if they got it all, save the leg but take out all the bones and replace them with metal rods. Or, amputate and just get rid of the cancer."

They cut off his leg, and then it got worse. His stump became infected, requiring doctors to cut a few inches higher.

His weight dropped to 95 pounds. He was bald and when his parents got him out of the house for a trip to Walmart, he broke down once inside.

"I felt like a circus freak, like I should be in a cage so paying customers could walk by and stare at me," he wrote in a self-published book. "I was thankful to be alive, but fighting to accept who I had become: a shell of my former self."

He was out of school for so long he returned only to have everyone point him out as the "cancer kid."

"It was never 'Scott,' " he says.

He wore long pants to cover his prosthesis. He lived in Texas, which can be sweltering, but in no way was he going to walk around and make it obvious he was different.

"There were a lot of days where I felt sad and alone," he says.

The girls shied away from him, former friends as well, and "I can't tell you how many nights I just laid there and cried, wondering if it was ever going to get better."

He tried out for the baseball team, worked on becoming a pitcher, but opted to have a designated hitter rather than risk running and being embarrassed.

"My parents knew I loved Ken Griffey so they said they would buy his jersey if I hit once. I did, struck out, but the ball got past the catcher. I'm thinking, 'Are you kidding me, I've got to run!' The catcher made a bad throw, I was safe and everyone went crazy. I just wanted a pinch-runner."

SCOTT ODOM is an "AK," an above-the-knee amputee.

"Some of my teammates are below-knee amputees, paper cuts as we tell them."

He's here as part of his continuing love for sports, his goal now is to start a basketball league for amputees.

"We're asking people not to look at our legs, but at our basketball," he says.

A wound care technician in Fort Worth, Odom has brought eight of his Amp 1 friends to L.A. Each is missing a leg, and nothing against those who choose wheelchairs, these guys just think of themselves as "stand-up guys" ready to take on all non-disabled competitors.

"I lost my leg to cancer, not my dream to play sports," says Odom, who can make his leg spin, his toes facing behind him.

"Some people can't watch when I do that," he says, "but the kids love it. And it's the kids who inspire me, especially the ones who don't seem to fit in. I understand."

He doesn't look at himself, though, as being handicapped, but like Andrew Bynum, he now finds himself parking on occasion in handicap spaces.

"Just got the blue tag this year," he says. "Might as well, but you know, I still feel funny using it."

He wears jersey No. 31/2, a humorous reminder that he's OK with missing half of his legs. But as for those who might say they'd give their right leg for this or that, Odom scoffs.

"Look at the NBA players; they have it all," he says, "and they want more."

"There was a point where I just wanted to live," he says, a "cancer survivor" tattoo on his upper left arm marking the date he was diagnosed and the day he beat it.

"I have 'never give up' on my back," he says, "and you know what, no matter what you have been through, there's always someone worse off. The whole pity party thing needs to disappear. It's all about being thankful for the things you have rather than worrying about what you don't have."

ODOM'S NON-DISABLED opponents couldn't seem to figure out his game as his team went 2-0 on Saturday. He's a step slower to his prosthesis side, but opponents still refuse to attack. Maybe they feel sorry for him. Maybe they're afraid they'll knock him down.

"So we usually go in front early until they learn we're here to play basketball," he says.

Irvine-based Freedom Innovations is sponsoring AMP 1's six-city tour. Each player has been fitted with a $50,000 prosthesis.

"Sure, some people look at me as a cripple," he says. "But I'm blessed; I've been given the chance now to make a difference."

But first he has some more able-bodied butt to kick.

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