“So what was the coolest thing about Paralympic National Soccer Camp?”
This was the first question that I asked my 13 year old son Shea, upon his return from the United States Men’s Paralympic National Team Training Camp in Carson, CA this past October. His response was, “The one-armed goalkeeper! He is the coolest guy you could ever meet and he saves everything!”There were a lot of answers that I was anticipating, but a goalkeeper that can only use one arm wasn’t high on the list! But I really shouldn’t have been surprised; as I’ve learned from watching Shea play, there are no limits to what paralympic athletes can do.
Shea’s journey to his first Paralympic National Team training camp was not planned nor was it expected. Until 6 months ago, we didn’t even know that a team of stroke, CP and traumatic brain injury survivors even existed. At that time, we were just a normal family trying to do the best for our son.
Our son Shea suffered a stroke in-utero on the right side of his brain which left him with hemiparesis on his left side. At around five years of age, he started to limp and hold his left arm in a crook position. These symptoms worsened as he grew tired. It was around this time that Shea fell in love with soccer, after journeying with me and his older sister to Africa to play and work at a soccer camp that we had set up for children in Botswana. Shea did this for the next two years also and each year I would film him running around the field in Maun. His disability became more noticeable as each year passed. Like any parents, we worried for him, especially when he played soccer.
Watching your child suffer is one of the hardest things in the world; in me, witnessing Shea’s and suffering generated a strong visceral reaction. I struggled to watch Shea play sports, pained whenever he was knocked down or he lost the ball. In all activities he was the weakest and least likely to have the ball passed to him. Since a breath of wind could knock him down, he never left any playing arena without severely bruised knees and elbows.
Resisting the urge to run to a fallen child in pain requires a manual override of a parent’s visceral emotional reaction. Even today when Shea goes down I still find myself taking off instinctively only to stop abruptly once I remember the rule I long ago established for myself: “DON’T PICK HIM UP.” Because I have held back, Shea has developed the confidence to take falls in stride.
A decade later, at the age of 13, Shea became the youngest invitee at one of the most recent Paralympic National Soccer camps in Carson, California. Training camps for the team are held frequently to prepare for major events such as the Olympics, Pan Am Games and World Cup. Eligibility for the team begins at age 15. With 18 months until he’s even eligible, Shea prepares with a daily training regimen that consists of a mixture of ball work, gym time and PT. This along with a full school load makes for a tired, but happy, lad.
As proud as we all are about Shea’s athletic accomplishments at the camp, it is when we listen to him talk about the community he’s found through paralympic athletics that we are most thrilled. After coming home, Shea told us stories of the many friends he’d made during the camp. He shared that some of the players became eligible because they were injured on active duty in places like Afghanistan. From them he learned that valuable perspective, telling me: “when you hear the stories of these very brave men it make my issues seem less important.”
Shea started as a young boy who could barely run. Today he is a potential Olympian.
Interested in following Shea’s adventures as he continues to play for the Paralympic National Team? Follow him on instagram @shea_hammond_. You can learn more about playing soccer with cerebral palsy, stroke, or brain injury at cpsoccer.us/.