Veteran Marine Bj Ganem lost his left leg below the knee in 2004 when a roadside bomb struck on Thanksgiving night in Iraq.
But with the Super Bowl days away, he and his fellow Wounded Warriors showed that their injuries are not holding them back as they geared up to compete against NFL alumni last night who share their same love for physical exertion in a charity flag football game.
While this year’s Super Bowl is marred by controversy due to recent CTE research that show the damaging effects on the brain, both the military and football veterans are celebrating the game despite battling the trauma that comes with careers of physical and mental sacrifice.
Speaking to Daily Mail Online, Bj Ganem, said of both military veterans and former football players: ‘The game really showcases what’s still possible even if your body isn’t the same as when you were younger or if you have injury.’
BJ Ganem is a veteran who lost his leg in Iraq (right) and is pictured (left) at the seventh annual Wounded Warrior football game against NFL alumni
Former US Marine Tim Piper is pictured giving the crowd high fives at the charity flag football game in Minnesota
US Army veteran Brandon Karona (left) is pictured at the game which is held to support wounded veterans and their families
The Wounded Warriors Amputee Football Team is made up of American military veterans who all lost a limb while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Their mission is to highlight the resilience of active and retired service members and raise awareness and support for wounded warriors and their families.
The veterans played last night in Minnesota against notable NFL alumni including hall-of-famers Jack Youngblood from the Los Angeles Ram and Charles Haley from the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys.
Ron Jaworski, former quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, reprised his role last night as the NFL alumni team quarterback for his sixth consecutive year.
He told Daily Mail Online before the event: ‘I remember how amazed I was my first year by how competitive these guys are. They are real American athletes.’
He added that he returns to play each year because ‘it’s an incredible and enlightening event to create support for these wounded warriors’.
Ganem, a father-of-four from Wisconsin, said that former professional football players and retired military veterans are not so different in that they are left with physical and mental trauma long after their service is over.
‘There’s a lot of parallels between leaving the NFL and the military. A lot of us leave with traumatic brain injuries,’ he said.
‘The NFL and military are the only places to do that job and once it’s done there’s no way to supplement that level of eliteness,’ he added.
Ganem lost his leg below the knee in 2004 when a roadside bomb struck in Iraq on Thanksgiving night.
He retired from the Marines in 2005 and said it wasn’t something he was not ready for at the time.
‘I ended up trying to find my way through. I was angry and lost in transition. I had a young family and me and my wife went separate ways ,’ he said.
Former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski and former San Francisco 49er Charles Haley hit the field Wednesday night to play against military veteran amputees
Ganem (right), pictured with Jacksonville Jaguars Brad Meester, is now the captain of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Football team
Veteran Kelly Smith hands the ball to a fellow teammate at Wednesday night’s game
Through support from friends, family and veteran’s organizations he said he ‘finally figured out how to slay the demons between my ears and my heart and refocused myself on school and work.’
With a prosthetic leg, Ganem turned to sports, biking, climbing, running marathons and of course – playing football.
He got a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of California in 2015 and has used his education to help guide other veterans through the transition from soldier to civilian.
The human spirit is very strong as long as you are willing to put in the effort
Ganem got involved in veteran advocacy and just last year started a non-profit organization called Sierra Delta to pair support dogs with veterans.
‘The human spirit is very strong as long as you are willing to put in the effort,’ he said.
Players on both teams expressed how eager they are to return to the field each year and said as long as they get the call, they will come back to play.
‘We’ve been able to bond and just to see the families that come out to watch us -you think you would get numb to it but it’s amazing to see the outcry of support,’ Ganem said.
Humana Health Care has sponsored th Tribute to Heroes Game of Honor charity football game for five consecutive years as part of the company’s long-standing commitment to the US military.
‘It’s an opportunity to give back to this group of people who have given so much for us.’ said Orie Mullen, president of Humana. ‘It’s very inspirational and uplifting to see these Americans get up and have some fun.’
Veteran Marine Hank Goff (right) runs for a first down along with US Army veteran Brandon Koron