As awe-inspiring and patriotically thrilling as the 2012 Summer Olympics were, the London Games are now history, the medal totals in the books, many of the U.S. athletes already lining up endorsement deals or looking ahead to 2016 for another shot at gold.
You don’t always know where inspiration is going to come from. And sometimes it comes in the unlikeliest of forms.
The key is to recognize it for what it is and use it.
Case in point: a soccer player named Cassy Rowe.
Cassy did not do battle in the Olympics; her battle comes on a different kind of playing field, every day.
I had the chance to meet her recently, as did the majority of parents and players on the competitive travel soccer team my daughter plays for out of Oakdale. When we headed to a two-day tournament at the Cherry Island Soccer Complex outside Sacramento, a few of the girls had heard her name but didn’t really know the story, just that she had gotten hurt playing the game.
The tournament was actually a benefit for Cassy, who was 16 and playing on those same Cherry Island fields when her neck was broken in a freak accident during a game. She struck her head on her coach’s knee as she was tumbling, off balance, out of bounds in a game during 2008. She hasn’t walked since.
But she has regained much of the use of her arms and continues her rehabilitation, working to get stronger every day and looking for new procedures and strategies to help her attain her goal of one day walking again.
This was our first time attending the tournament, which was scheduled in August. Previous years it has been in January and just didn’t fit with our schedule. But this time, it worked.
I saw Cassy briefly in passing on Saturday; just enough to wave a hello and see that she was there at the tournament. On Sunday, in between games, my daughter and many of her teammates had the opportunity to meet Cassy and talk with her, as she told her story for probably the umpteenth time. She was interrupted once by a couple of young players, maybe 9 or 10-years-old, who shyly brought their ‘Cassy Rowe’ tournament T-shirts forth and asked if they could have her autograph.
A couple of storyboards covered with pictures from before and after the accident detailed the differences in Cassy’s life, then and now. Some photos were from the hospital and her treatment at Shriner’s, others showed her as a young girl on the soccer field, more chronicled her teenage years and family adventures. She talked willingly about the accident, her struggles afterward with finding the inner strength to keep going, her decision to turn away from soccer at first and then eventually re-embrace the game and her teammates who continue to support her.
She wanted to know how our team was doing; after their Sunday morning battle with a team from Elk Grove, the girls were in first place, three wins and no losses, with one game to go. She wished them luck in the afternoon and said she would hopefully see them later.
Talk turned from the soccer game to the impact meeting Cassy had on the girls, as they discussed her courage and candor. Some of us parents agreed it must be incredibly hard to come back to ‘the scene’ where your life changed forever in one fateful instant.
Cassy’s mom was seemingly everywhere, keeping track of the teams in multiple age divisions, charting scores and goals and making sure the right amount of points were being awarded. As our team prepared for its final contest, the strength of its first three wins (all by shutout) put us solidly in front with 30 points. Elk Grove, which fought us tooth and nail, had already completed their four games and trailed us by a couple of points in the standings. In our final game, even a tie would keep us above the rest in points and nail down first place.
I think the girls really wanted to win this one in honor of Cassy. To put everything they had into it for a girl that would if she could. Only a late free kick by the Auburn team that found the top corner of the net spoiled the weekend string of four shutout wins and our U19 girls had to settle for a 1-1 tie in the finale. But they knew the bigger victory, earning the championship, was theirs.
Cassy had been pushed to the sideline as the second half started and her presence was not lost on our girls. They battled hard, to the end, and after shaking hands with the other team and the referees, they jogged to the sideline where we parents traditionally applaud their effort. They then veered, like a flock of geese, to a spot further up the sideline where Cassy sat in her wheelchair and they all stood there and applauded for her, showing their appreciation for her being there to cheer them on.
They also had the chance to pose with her for their championship photo after their individual trophies had been presented and she signed each one, saying she “needed the practice” for her writing skills.
Up until this point, we have never had good luck or much success over the years at Cherry Island. It has always been 100-plus and unbearable (Fourth of July tournament) or pouring down rain and unbearable (Thanksgiving tournament).
We have had players crawl off the field with injures, players carried off the field with injuries, players battling the elements as much as their opponents.
But this time, it was different.
Our girls drew inspiration from someone they had never met before and learned that courage and determination can help you reach your goals, no matter how far away they might seem.
In the words of #11, Cassy Rowe: “Never give up.”
Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times and The Oakdale Leader and assistant editor for The Riverbank News. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.