Katie Underwood student writter at the Celt Press -- On Feb. 25 the men's and women's soccer teams participated in Celts to Cure, a Coach to Cure event. Coach to Cure is a program intended to raise awareness about and money to research Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disorder that breaks down muscle tissue in every 1 out of 3,500 young men.
The idea for Celts to Cure was first developed when UST junior David Gonzalez, who has Duchenne and is actively involved with Coach to Cure, reached out to UST athletic director Todd Smith about the possibility of hosting such an event. The program is usually done through a football game between a school's players and a sports team whose members are afflicted by muscular dystrophy. The University of St. Thomas Celts athletic program opted for a power soccer game between the Celts and Gonzalez's power soccer team, the Houston Fireballs. Power soccer is played in motorized wheelchairs by both teams with a large soccer ball.
"The Fireballs were simply elated by the opportunity to meet new people from the St. Thomas community and they felt welcome by the entire community," Gonzalez said. "My favorite part of the event was the fact that the event brought people together for the purposes of making a difference. Everyone met a new person that day and it was because we were all united in the fight to end Duchenne."
The entire Celts to Cure event began with the basketball teams' Senior Night. Throughout the women's and men's games, money was raised for Coach to Cure through donations and t-shirt sales. Following the end of the men's game, the power soccer game between the Celts and the Fireballs commenced. Junior Chelsea York (JR/Deer Park, TX) was one of the soccer players who participated in the event.
"I wanted to be involved because I thought it was an awesome opportunity to connect with a great group of kids over something we all had in common: soccer!" York said. "I quickly realized they were much better than us and we were going to get killed, but it was still so much fun!"
The Celts, unused to navigating the wheelchairs, found it difficult to compete against the Fireballs. In each round of the game the university's students were beaten, with the first round yielding a score of 10-0. However, not once was there a sign of poor sportsmanship from either team. Women's soccer coach Nikola Barjaktarevic said that the Celts' performance eventually improved after the halftime speech given by their honorary coach, Michael Liech of the Houston Dynamo. Subsequent rounds were played between teams with both Celts and Fireballs to even things out for both sides.
"Men's & women's soccer players had a great attitude, but we soon realized just how good Houston Fireballs are," Barjaktarevic said. "Being around these young ladies and young men that have amazing abilities, such energy, and feeling that positive attitude they project around them was such an inspiration. Seeing Houston Fireball team play in their power wheelchairs with such grace, control and command, communicating positively, passing to each other, scoring, working together made us realize how hard do they work and how much time they dedicate to practicing, how much they love playing soccer and their passion for the sport we love as well."
Barjaktarevic said that the soccer team is already planning to have the Fireballs be their special guests in the fall season. In addition, they plan to make Gonzalez an honorary captain at one of their home games. The Celts will also go watch the Fireballs' practices and, as Barjaktarevic said, "hopefully pick up a few things so that next time we can at least score one goal." The experience is one that the Celts will always remember.
"For me, this was a lesson I've been taught throughout my life because I have a brother with cerebral palsy," senior soccer player Montserrat Espinosa (SR/Humble, TX) said. "My brother has always been a happy kid and has never been one to be left behind because of his disease. I felt happy to see these kids so happy with life despite their hindrances and the obstacles they must overcome. It was awesome to be reminded of the lesson to appreciate what you have and always live life to the fullest."
The athletics department raised approximately $1,000 through Celts to Cure. Coach Todd Smith said he hopes to make it an annual event. All their goals of spreading awareness about Duchenne and introducing Gonzalez, his family and his fight to the UST community, Smith said, were met with great success.
"So often with events like this, the best thing about it is meeting new people, making new friends, basically expanding my and hopefully our perspective about life," he said. "I think that's as important as anything. The friendship that I formed with David and his family is worth more than any money."