Knowing that a professional athlete has the same involuntary movement disorder as you can be a powerful moment in a young life – especially when he’s an icon for the same sport that fills your passion.
Akron Children’s Hospital patient Ben Bradley and his family of Trumbull County’s Cortland were eager to drive some 175 miles across Ohio to meet Olympian and Major League Soccer goalkeeper Tim Howard, who’s the captain for the Colorado Rapids club team and founder of the Howard’s Hero program.
They both have Tourette Syndrome (TS), which is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. So when Dr. Katrina Lindsay, an Akron Children’s pediatric psychologist, received a call from Howard’s Hero program earlier in the summer, she immediately knew the two had to meet. The Rapids would be in Ohio soon for a match with the Columbus Crew.
“Ben is an absolute soccer maniac. He knows every team, every play and every player, so when Tim Howard’s team called me, there really wasn’t another child with a Tic Disorder that I had in mind. Ben has really used his love of sports and awesome athletic abilities to get through some of the really tough stuff about having a chronic diagnosis, so I really felt like his story fit Tim Howard’s story.”
She was right – the two hit it off after the Sept. 22 game!
Two #HowardsHeroes are better than one! Shout out to both Colin and Ben for coming out to the match over the weekend. You both have inspired me with your perseverance and outlook on life. Thank you! pic.twitter.com/2cBpTfWtgr
— Tim Howard (@TimHowardGK) September 24, 2018
Each time Tim meets a young child also navigating life with the syndrome, he stresses 3 things: self-advocacy, for them to “push the limits” and that Tourette Syndrome “does not define us… There might be something that stops you, but (TS) is not going to be that something,” he said in a video.
According to Ben’s parents, Jim and Erin Bradley, the soccer field is one place where her 12-year-old son’s tics (of the face, hands, fingers and arms) are not apparent. “Ben can completely focus on the game and his responsibilities,” Jim said. “We believe soccer training and games provide a relief of some type to Ben, so much that his soccer club teammates and coach were not aware of his tics.”
Even before Ben met Tim, the commonality and acquaintance made a difference. Ben found the confidence to tell his soccer family about his tics earlier that week. “Everyone was supportive,” Erin said.
Ben’s parents started seeing traits of the syndrome when he was 2 years old, but they didn’t know what it was. He was properly diagnosed at age 10. “We have been blessed to be under the care of Dr. Lindsay in the Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT) program (in the Neurodevelopmental Science Center), which teaches people to change their behavior over time and tic less in a very positive manner and environment,” Erin said.
Looking back on the experience, Erin said it could not have been better. “We are forever grateful for this experience that you have given Ben!” Erin wrote on Tim’s Facebook page. “You took time out of your busy life to have a conversation with Ben about life with TS, soccer, school, friends and how it is ok to be himself!!! Thank you for helping him find his voice and realizing that it is ok to be him, tics and all!”
Here’s proof quick encounters can make big impacts. We encourage more icons, role models and celebrities to help our youth find their voice.