WASHINGTON — A young man in a yellow polo shirt stood in the middle of the futsal court, surrounded by his family, and even with his sunglasses on, you could tell that he was crying.
On the same court stood Kobe Bryant, Pep Guardiola, Mia Hamm, Nomar Garciaparra and various other celebrities. The young man was there to meet his hero. But his hero did not emerge in Yankees pinstripes or a United States women’s national team jersey. Instead, an unassuming man strolled casually down from the stands in cargo shorts and a tank top. The two embraced emotionally with everyone looking on.
No one in the crowd had heard of Jeffery Santana before that day, but I doubt that anyone will forget what they saw. At 16, Andrew Vickers, the young man in the yellow polo, received a diagnosis of lymphoma. Santana was tested as a possible bone marrow donor. Fifteen years after being tested, Santana got a call that he was a match for someone in need of a transplant. On that futsal court, Andrew Vickers came face to face for the first time with the man who had saved his life.
When I got to pass back and forth with Pep Guardiola, I thought that my day was complete. I’m not one to be star-struck, but the Barcelona manager and his team are my fútbol idols. Shaking the hand of Jeffery Santana, however, was by far the highlight of my day. I have never felt so honored to meet a true hero.
I have always known that my involvement in this sport transcends the playing field in many ways, but rarely have I seen such a tangible example as I did atMia Hamm’s Celebrity Soccer Challenge in Washington last Sunday. I got to wear Barça gear, hang out with amazing people and play futsal in front of a great crowd. But the most memorable part of the day had nothing to do with soccer. I got to see first hand what the Mia Hamm Foundation is all about, and I (along with many others) was floored.
I have always had the utmost respect for Mia’s legacy as a player. But the impact she has made off the field is even more incredible to me. I strongly urge you to check out the Mia Hamm Foundation Web site. I plan to get tested to become a potential donor, and I hope that I am lucky enough to be a match for a person in need.
This sport continually inspires me to become better — as an athlete and a human being. Once again, I feel humbled and incredibly grateful to be reminded of the impact I can have on other people. A huge thank you to Mia for showing that to us all.