The youngest member of the U.S. power wheelchair soccer team has always refused to be limited by others' expectations.
Pete Winslow has spent his entire life doing things people don't think he should be able to do.
Born with no legs, a right arm that reaches only to the elbow and just three fingers on his left hand, the Stillwater High School senior -- who also plays trombone in the school's jazz, pep and concert bands -- admits that he enjoys "astounding people."
"Hey, if I saw myself, I'd probably underestimate myself, too," he said. "I like it when people look at me and say, 'You can't do that.' And I say, 'Watch this.' And when I'm done, I say, 'If I can do it, so can you.'"
It's no surprise to anyone who knows him that Winslow is the youngest member of the U.S. team that will play in next week's World Cup of Power (wheelchair) Soccer in France.
"If you'll excuse the cliché, I hate people who judge a book by its cover," said Winslow, who at 17 has teammates who have been playing the game for nearly as long as he's been alive.
Winslow hasn't always been the success he is now. He says he has "crashed and burned more times than I can count." But he considers failure to be just one step in figuring out what he can succeed at.
"People are afraid to mess up," he said. "I was afraid to mess up, too. But I've realized that I'm going to mess up, and that's OK. ... If you don't go for it, you can't get it. So I'm going to go for everything."
His introduction to power soccer was the result of happenstance and hot dogs. Pete and his father, Herb Winslow, were attending an expo on handicap-accessible bicycles at Courage Center, the rehabilitation center in Golden Valley, when they stumbled on a demonstration of power soccer.
Pete wanted to skip it and go home, but "then he discovered that they were serving hot dogs," his father said.
As soon as the demonstration started, it was love at first sight. "I knew right away that I could get into this," Pete said. His dad concurred: "He got really good really quickly."
His coaches credit his quick learning curve to natural athletic talent, quick reflexes and an ability to -- in coaching jargon -- "see the entire field." He plays center, which puts him at the epicenter of the action and makes him the game's version of a quarterback, calling out to his teammates where the gaps in the defense are.
He played for the first time four years ago. Just two years later, already considered one of the top players in the state, he announced that he wanted to try out for the U.S. team.
"From the moment I started [power soccer] it was my dream to play for the national team someday," he said. "If I made it, I made it. If not, it would be good experience for the 2015 team."
Not only had he been playing the game for a short time, but he was on a team that competed in Division II, a step down in competition from the rest of the national players.
"No D2 player had ever made the national team," he said. Did he know that going in to tryouts? Yes. Did he care? No.
Winslow proved that he belonged. Now playing for the Minnesota Magic, a team that competes in the nation's top league, he was named the national team's player of the month at their August training camp.
Tracy Mayer, the coach of the Minnesota Magic, talked with Chris Finn, the head coach of the national team, before Winslow's national team tryout.
"I knew he was going in with the least amount of experience of any of the players," he said. "But I told [Finn] that he's naturally gifted to play the game, and he wants to learn."
He's always been a can-do guy
Despite the enjoyment he gets from surprising people with everything he can do, the one thing he won't do is talk about his accomplishments.
"It's not that I don't brag," he insisted. "It depends on the context. I brag plenty to my friends and my teammates. But my parents taught me not to do it in public."
Herb Winslow and his wife, Carolyn, adopted Pete when he was 8 months old. While they're willing to take credit for his good manners, his can-do spirit is all his own, Carolyn Winslow said.
"He was born with it," she said. "Even as an infant, he was figuring out how do to things we didn't expect him to be able to do. We had no idea if he'd be able to move around on the ground, but he figured out how to crawl and roll."
Pete, for whom the medical terminology is "congenital quad amputee," was born to a Twin Cities woman who didn't think she could provide the level of care he needed. The Winslows, who have four older children, saw baby Pete on a TV news segment that features kids available for adoption.
"We saw him and said, 'That's our son,'" Carolyn Winslow said.
Pete agreed that his determination comes naturally. "As a kid, I never thought I couldn't do anything," he said, an attitude the friends in his Woodbury neighborhood embraced. "They included me in everything. With something like kickball, I couldn't kick the ball. So someone else would do that, but then I'd roll down the base path" in his wheelchair.
Finn, the head coach of the national team, said Winslow earned his spot on the team with his never-say-die focus on improving.
"During selection camp, we saw that Pete had a lot of raw talent as a player," he said. "We felt that given the chance, he would be able to improve his game and eventually play a role on the team. Pete accepted the challenge and is now at the top of his game."
Once Winslow made the team, his school, local team and community all rallied around him. "It wouldn't have been possible without them," he said.
The national team gave him a series of extensive drills that he had to perform every week. "The athletic director [at Stillwater High School] arranged for me to use the school gym for my drills," he said. "I never could have kept up with them otherwise."
He also credits his Minnesota Magic teammates for pushing him to improve.
While handing out thank-yous, he has one more big one: to the neighbors who bought things like calendars and team photos, contributions that would allow him to go to France.
"I kept going back, and they kept contributing," he said.
It's kickoff time
Next week, the pressure will be on team USA. Because they won the World Cup in 2007, everyone will be out to beat them, Winslow said. Updates on the tournament will be posted on the national team's website, www.powersoccerteamusa.org. There also will be a link to live Internet streaming of the games.
The four members of the team who played in the 2007 World Cup have warned their new teammates:
"We've been told to expect crowds of 3,000 people," Winslow said. "I've played in front of 100 people, and I've given speeches to 500 people. But 3,000 people all screaming at you? That's going to be something else."
Then again, it's just that many more people he can surprise by doing something they don't think he can.
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392