Life Lessons from the VIP Special Needs Soccer Program
By David Anfield
Editor’s Note: David Anfield wrote this essay about his time with his soccer buddy, Patrick. This essay was part of his application for the Jimmy Reynolds Scholarship, which he won! David is now a Freshman at the University of Missouri.
I have loved playing football since I was a little kid. As a 6th grader, I joined the Western Springs league in order to learn the game. I played for 3 years, with dreams of someday playing football when I got to high school at Lyons Township. My dream came true and I played four years at LT.
As a freshman, I was fortunate enough to be a starter on the “A” defensive team that went undefeated. As a sophomore, we also went undefeated and the following year I was awarded MVP for the Junior Varsity team. I was really looking forward to my Senior Year. I devoted my entire summer and winter working out for that upcoming season at LT.
With that all being said, I have to say that maybe my greatest “lesson of life” came my Senior Year while a member of the varsity team.
It was Friday night, September 17, 2010—the big game! Lyons Township vs. Hinsdale Central. Anyone who lives around here knows the feelings that come with that game. We were up 34-10 and I desperately wanted to get in there and be a part of that victory. It was a “blackout” game and it was our biggest rival. And I was a senior. This is what I had worked 4 years for… right? To play on a night like this, to just get on the field for even the last 5 minutes.
Anyway, I did not get put in and went home—happy we won, but pretty down that night. I still went with the players, some of my best friends, after the game to eat and help them celebrate. Even though I was really disappointed inside, I was happy for LT. I was still part of the team and wanted to be with everyone. It was during that game that I experienced what a lot of people would put into the category of “life is not fair.” But I soon learned that this was actually a life lesson about going through adversity. What was kind of amazing though is that I actually experienced the greatest lesson in life the following day on Saturday.
Now it’s September 18, the Saturday after the game. I went with my dad to help out with the VIP Special Needs Soccer Program. He started this program in 2003 through A.Y.S.O. My mom and dad made sure that me, my brother, and my two sisters have always been involved in being buddies for the kids that came to play soccer. We have kids in wheelchairs, with autism, physical and mental handicaps, etc.
I have been buddies with many different kids through the years since I started going to these games when I was 11 years old. We play games in the Fall and the Spring seasons on Saturday afternoons. I guess it is during these days that I put things in “perspective”. These kids and their parents live through adversity 24hours/7days a week. Their smiles when they kick the ball down the field and score a goal really makes me think what life is all about. This game is just as important to them as the Friday night games are to me.
I really can appreciate the struggle that they live with and can never feel sorry for my own struggle when I watch them. They are happy with who they are and with what they accomplish. They appreciate the halftime water breaks, their own colored uniforms, and the trophy they receive at the end of the season. I even remember one mom telling me how her son would sleep in his uniform and take his trophy to bed with him. He was so proud to be a part of a team because he had been going to his brothers’ soccer games his whole life. Now he was part of something.
On this particular day, I met my new “buddy”, Patrick. Patrick was born with LCA, a disease that causes blindness at a very young age. His parents are two of the nicest people I have ever met. They explained to me a little about how to hold his hand and guide him. My Dad showed me the “beeping” ball that Patrick would listen to and kick and follow down the field. Patrick is one of those kids that you instantly like being with. The overwhelming smile that came over his face when he listened for “his” ball is something I will never forget. His cute face just lights up when he smiles and it really warms my heart.
I took Patrick into the goal so he could feel the net and the goalpost. He began kicking the ball with great determination. He kicked that ball with all his might and I was so impressed with the power and toughness he exhibited. The smile never left his face and he instantly caught on. Patrick was a “natural” and with every kick, he just kept getting better and better. His first goal was met with loud cheers and I could tell he had even more drive to keep playing. Patrick and I worked together every game and have become great friends.
I enjoyed getting to know him, his sister and his parents. They are a great family and I enjoyed visiting with them every Saturday. His parents happen to be big football fans and our conversations led to arranging to meet them before the LT homecoming game to show Patrick my equipment. It had to be a day game so that he could see the outline of the colors.
On Homecoming day, I rushed in to the locker room to get taped up and put on my gear. I was very excited to see Patrick and his family. I was sitting on the bench in the locker room, waiting for my phone to ring to alert me that they were here. My phone began to vibrate and I grabbed my helmet and headed out of the locker room. Outside I saw Patrick and his family.
I say hi to everybody and give Patrick a big hug and we talk. His parents take pictures as I am showing him my uniform. He loved the shiny gold outline of my helmet and kept touching it. I put the shoulder pads and helmet on him and we posed for some fun pictures. Watching him smile while he was feeling my equipment was one of the best moments of my life. I told him thanks for coming and as I was walking back to the locker room, I realized that Patrick and I each experience adversity in our separate lives. But when we are together, we have a connection that seems to make our problems go away… at least for a little while… when we are running down the field together, talking and having fun.
I tell myself that I had some good times playing football and I appreciate all that I got to experience.
I made some great friends and have some good memories. Yes, I wish my senior year could have seen more playing time. But I realize, as I look back on this senior year, that the adversity that I faced is nothing compared to what Patrick faces every minute of every day. He inspires me… that maybe life is not always fair, but adversity comes throughout life. You just deal with it and try to make the best of things. It’s not the end of the world when things don’t work out your way. Just look ahead and appreciate what you do have. I feel so fortunate to know Patrick and his family. They have shown me that life is what you make it. And you should appreciate and enjoy life and not focus on hardships.
Read this article in Arabic: حيوا-السيدة-العمياء
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