When you meet Matt Sallee you quickly realize that you are talking to a young man who, as normal as he wants to be, is extraordinary.
Sallee is an 8th grade football player and track athlete at Henry County Middle School. And he has a prosthetic leg.
“I was born with three toes and no ankle bone.,” he said, “The only option was a prosthetic leg. I’ve had it since I could walk. I’ve never had anything different.” His right leg was amputated at the knee when he was just a baby.
His parents, Charlie and Toni Sallee, have never really treated him differently because of it. “We try to make sure all three of our kids are well-rounded; sports, school, and church,” Charlie said.
He has grown up playing middle school sports just like any other kid. “I guess it’s not as bad when you’re born with it as when you are an adult and lose a leg and have to relearn everything,” Charlie said.
“Going to Shriner’s helped me understand,” Toni said, “I met a 13 year old who was having the same surgery as Matt but he also didn’t have any hands. When you go to Shriner’s and see what some of those kids have to overcome… their obstacles are much more than his.”
Matt is a big kid for his age. He is a 6-foot-tall, 170-pound, 13-year-old. In football Matt plays offensive and defensive guard and in track he high jumps and competes in the throwing events. When asked if he found any of his events difficult because of his leg he said, “No not really. Discus is the toughest event because of technique not because of my leg. It’s not an impediment in any way.”
Friends and teammates don’t see him as anything but normal… on the surface anyway. He cuts up and jokes around with them and they tease back- just like normal middle school age boys. But when asked questions that make them think about it, they realize that the very fact that he seems like just another guy makes him special.
“I think it’s nice that he always jokes around and has a good attitude and never lets the fact that he has a prosthetic leg get him down,” football teammate Tim Haag said.
Drake Steele, another football teammate echoed those sentiments as only a 13-year-old can. “I think he’s a monster,” he said, “I think it’s cool how he never gets down. He always stays positive.”
But when talking to Matt and others around him, one understands that it is always in the back of his mind. It doesn’t bother him. He doesn’t seem to get down about having a prosthetic leg. He just understands that some people are uncomfortable about it at first. Matt uses humor to clear the air and make people understand that it’s no big deal.
His friend and teammate Koby Stanley said, “I think it’s cool and he always jokes about it. One day in practice the big (blocking) sled ran over his real leg and he yelled, ‘Seriously, my only real leg and you had to run over it!’”
Matt said, “It helps people feel comfortable around me when I joke about it.”
Football coach Jacob Crowe also made it clear that he is treated like everybody else. “We don’t really pay any attention to it,” he said, “We don’t cut him any slack. He doesn’t expect any slack either. He’s got the body for it and the work ethic. He just needs to learn the technical part of the game like any young player.
He’s a fast learner and he pays attention. He is so aggressive. The coaches and players respect him because he is so positive. There are no excuses with Matt.”
Crowe also touched on the sense of humor that always comes up when people talk about Matt, “In one game his prosthetic leg broke at the foot and he came running off the field yelling coach my foot is broke,” he said, “The referee on our sideline saw the foot dangling and started cringing and looking at Matt like, ‘How can he stand on a broken foot?’ Matt said, ‘It’s okay coach we have insurance.’ We eventually explained it to the ref.”
Track coach Sed Williams echoed the sentiments of Crowe regarding the way Matt doesn’t want to be treated any differently and how quickly people forget that he is an amputee playing sports. “The first day he came out I noticed the leg because he had on shorts,” he said, “My first thought was, ‘okay how should I curb his training regimen?’ I quickly realized that I didn’t need to curb his training. In practice if I set a certain number of reps for a drill or weights or whatever, I usually tell kids that they can do a lesser number if they are not up to it physically. With Matt, he was always wanting to know if he could do extra.”
“He never complained or was never sad or down,” Williams said, “Whether he was 1st place or 10th place he never changed his upbeat attitude. With Matt, it was always about whether he gave 100%. He loves to compete and he is a progress kid. He loves seeing personal progress.”
When asked if he drew inspiration from the story of Olympian Oscar Pistorius who competed in the 400 meter run at the London Games, Matt said, “Yeah, because most people with prosthetics don’t think they can do much, but when they see him out there running around the track, they realize they can do it too. I want to be an inspiration to people for the same reason.”
Prosthetic leg or not, Matt Sallee is an inspiring kid.