TJ Reff recently watched a video of comedian and Paralympian Josh Sundquist that eventually led him to football to fulfill his dream of competing on the world stage.
Reeve was recently named to the American Amputee Soccer team and signed to play the goalkeeper at the FIFA World Cup for Amputees scheduled for September in Istanbul, Turkey.
The 2021 Sandy Creek graduate received an invitation to join the national team after participating in a few practices with the New York City regional team based on Long Island. The 19-year-old is among the three youngest players on the World Cup squad.
“It still doesn’t work,” said Thomas Jason Reeve, often referred to as “TJ.”
“I grew up watching the US team play in every tournament – the World Cup, the Gold Cup – the US team in general has always been a dream, and to get a call that I would be representing the US on an amputee team was a huge honor and a big part of that dream came true.”
Reeve was sitting at home in early May when he saw the video of Sundquist discussing his experience with the US amputee soccer team and it immediately piqued his interest.
He visited the organization’s website and discovered the regional team’s presence in New York City, communicated with coaches, and has coached with the club ever since. He travels to the area on Friday morning, books an AirBnB overnight stay, and returns home after Saturday practices.
Reeve was surprised to receive an offer of a place in the World Cup on a phone call from the coaches very quickly after starting training sessions with the regional team.
“I assumed I would keep working and when the next tournament came, I would work hard enough to be ready for it then, I never would have imagined that it would happen in just a few months of playing at first,” Reeve said.
Amputee football is played on a 3/4 size court in a 7-on-7 format, with six field players and a goalkeeper on each side for international competition.
Field players can only play the ball with one leg and goalkeepers are allowed to use one arm, so athletes who do not have full function of the upper extremities play the goalkeeper and participants without full use of the lower extremities take field positions.
Reeve was born with Poland syndrome, a condition in which his fingers did not fully develop because the umbilical cord was wrapped around his right hand before birth. He has a full bony growth in his arm and wrist.
“Usually when I play I’m kind of a weird guy, I mean, I’m the one-handed goalkeeper, but when I get down there it feels like everyone is in the same boat,” Reeve said.
“There are no questions about that or any concerns, we are just there to play. Getting to know them and their stories and how they came to be on the team has been more inspiring to me, because seeing more people in my situation is what I can relate to that I have never had before” .
Reeve was promoted as a freshman and played three college seasons with the Sandy Creek/Pulaski High School combined team, scoring more than 120 saves and earning a Frontier League All-Star Honor as a full-time start to his junior year.
As the fourth of six siblings to dominate the sport, Reeve began playing year-round soccer at the age of five and developed his abilities on the self-made soccer field in the family’s backyard.
Reeve’s anticipated campaign with the Comets was delayed from fall to spring 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns, and the team was subsequently unable to field a team due to low participation numbers. Instead, he played senior football and converted an additional 13 points and a field goal as captain for the intense five-game spring season.
Reeve has been busy working at Syracuse and playing indoor leagues since graduating last year, but he has been eager to take advantage of the opportunity to return to organized football.
James Pierre Glodd, USA Amputee Football Association Board Member and Director of Sports Medicine and Sports Performance for the US National Team, described Reeve as an exciting part of the team’s future and said his enthusiasm was evident upon their first meeting.
“It was great to know that he was actually a goalkeeper,” said Pierre Gelud.
“What happens is that some of our upper-limb amputees may be familiar with football and have played as field players, but may not have had any experience as a goalkeeper, so it was refreshing to see that he had a lot of experience playing as a goalkeeper, so I caught on right away. We didn’t have to teach him to play the center.”
The US national amputee team relies heavily on raising funds to cover nearly $200,000 in costs related to training and sending the team to compete in the upcoming World Cup. Each player is expected to raise a total of $1,500 to cover part of their expenses. To donate or read more about the team’s mission, visit www.usampsoccer.org.
Amputee football is played by more than 60 countries with 50 sanctioned by the FIFA, according to its website, and the upcoming World Cup was the first to require a qualifying tournament.
The US national team, coached by Eric Lamberg, advanced last March, finishing second in the qualifiers that included hosts Mexico, Haiti, Costa Rica and El Salvador.