The Journey to Become a Professional Soccer Player
Demitrius Omphroy had a dream of being a professional soccer player when he was younger. At the age of four, he could be seen kicking the soccer ball against the wall with his dad, begging to play soccer on an organized team. When he was five years old, finally old enough to play, Demitrius fell in love with the game of soccer.
Demitrius grew up playing through the Youth U.S. National Teams up until age 17, when he was offered an opportunity that would change his life. Sporting Clube de Portugal, one of the most esteemed soccer academies in the world, offered Demitrius a year long training stint with their youth academy. If he did well enough during that year, he would then be signed to a Senior contract on his 18th birthday.
He had never lived away from home, Demitrius grew up in a very close-knit Filipino family. The idea of missing family gatherings and being away from his loved ones seemed daunting. But he kept one goal in mind: Becoming a professional soccer player. He decided to take the leap. He left school and his family. Demitrius had set off on this journey to become a professional athlete.
The first couple of months took a lot of adjusting for Demitrius. Not knowing the language, not knowing anyone in the country, he felt like he was starting life over completely. He enrolled in Portuguese school and did the best he could to immerse himself into the culture. As weeks went by, he slowly began learning the language and making new friends, but most importantly, he was improving as a soccer player. His hard work paid off and he was pulled up to the older team on certain days of the week to train. This some brought positive attention to the head offices and coaching staff. Eight months into training, Demitrius was called into a meeting with the Academy executives. His mind raced before the big meeting.
Was he not playing well? Did he do something wrong? Was he getting sent home?
Questions raced through his mind leading up to the important meeting. They sat him down and talked to him for a little asking about his goals and progress over the past eight months.
His heart pounded as he gave long-winded, nervous responses. They could sense there was tension in the air but finally reassured Demitrius with some positive feedback. They told him that they were going to sign him on his 18th birthday. Demitrius was going to be a professional soccer player.
He couldn’t wait to turn 18 years old now. Every single day was a day closer to his birthday, a day closer to signing that professional contract. On one particular morning, Demitrius woke up in his Academy dorm room wondering why he had blurry vision in his right eye. He went down to breakfast continuing to try and rub the blurriness out of his eye. Then he got the training field. That’s when he realized there was a serious problem. He was clumsily missing passes in warmup, misjudging the speed of the soccer ball. His depth perception was completely out of whack. He ran off the field and told the trainer that he couldn’t see out of his right eye.
Demitrius was pulled from training that week to seek medical attention from the trainers on site. Nobody knew what was wrong with him. He went into Lisbon to see a Portuguese ophthalmologist. Demitrius’ symptoms puzzled Portuguese doctors. They ran all of the examinations possible on his eye and went over results. The conclusion they came to would change his future there, forever.
Demitrius was told that he may go blind. The symptoms could potentially have been hereditary and if so, it would transfer into the other eye. He went home that night in tears thinking that his life was over. Looking back he thought about how he had left home, he left school, left his family, all to become a professional soccer player. He had done all the hard work, impressed the coaches, he was supposed to be signing a professional contract on his 18th birthday. That was the life plan he was expecting, not the one that said that he could potentially go blind. He flew home to seek out additional medical attention back in California and was able to get down to the root of the issue. Doctors diagnosed Demitrius with Optic Neuritis, a swelling of the optic nerve, causing blurry vision in his affected eye.
It would take him eight long months to recover, and his pending contract with the professional academy would soon become terminated. Just like that, his dreams were ripped away.
Fortunately, he had been in talks with colleges and was able to get his education back in order. He was then offered a soccer scholarship at the University of California, Berkeley. He would go on to earn two Conference Championships and a National Title run to the Elite 8 during his fourth and final year. Right before that final season, Demitrius had woken up with some numbness in his left foot during Spring season training. He had been elbowed in his back during practice the day before and thought that the trauma from the blow was the reason for the numbness. A week went by and things weren’t improving. This couldn’t be the pinched nerve that he had thought it was. After a few doctor visits, chiropractic sessions, and an MRI, Demitrius would be diagnosed with the chronic neurological disease, Relapsing forms of Multiple Sclerosis, two months before his 21st birthday.
Devastated he had no idea of his future career as an athlete. There was finally a reason to what had ripped that contract away from him when he was 17. Now, at the most important year of his college career, he was diagnosed with a chronic disease that could potentially leave him in a wheelchair. He had to make a choice. He could let this disease determine the rest of the way he was going to live his life, or he could take control of it. He chose to fight. He began medical therapy called Copaxone, glatirimir acetate, taking a daily subcutaneous injection.
The initial injections were pretty tough for him but after a couple of weeks they started becoming more “normal.” Demitrius went on that year to have the best season of his entire four years at U.C. Berkeley. CAL had taken the nation by storm, becoming Pac-10 Champions in addition to making a viral dancing YouTube video as a team. It was no secret that the U.C. Berkeley Men’s Soccer Team one of the most interesting teams to see in the NCAA Tournament.
CAL went on to the Elite 8 round against the University of Akron. It was a hard fought game: Ending in 3-3, going to into double overtime and eventually decided by penalty kicks. CAL had lost to the soon-to-be National Champions. Demitrius went on to play an incredible game that day, notching two vital assists in the comeback of his team in the second half. At the end of his college season, Demitrius didn’t know what the next step was. Confused, he thought about try-outs, reaching out to coaches, professional teams, overseas, he was lost in trying to keep soccer in his life. A few weeks passed and he received a letter in mail saying that he was invited to the 2011 Major League Soccer Combine. This was his chance to become a professional soccer player…Again.
Demitrius went on to have a great combine and was drafted in the second round by Toronto FC, as their first pick of the draft, 26th overall. The wait was over, he had finally done it. Emotions ran through his body and he couldn’t help but cry tears of joy. He thought about losing that professional contract in Portugal at age 17 then getting diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 21. But despite all of the adversity faced on this journey, he finally could say he was a professional soccer player. Demitrius then went on to represent the Philippines Men’s National Team, a life long dream he had wanted to do for his grandfather. He was able to win Silver and Gold medals with the Azkals, helping the country earn their first trophy in over 99 years.
On the day Demitrius was was signed by Toronto FC, he became the first player in Major League Soccer History with Multiple Sclerosis.
And he didn’t keep quiet about it. He felt like he had an obligation to spread awareness to this disease because it could benefit others. He wanted people to know that overcoming this diagnosis, is within our grasp and that we control the destiny that we truly believe in.
As a Nationwide Multiple Sclerosis Advocate, Demitrius saw there was so much great information about new drug therapy treatments being researched, always in the pipeline. But what he felt was the most important thing in his life, was to try and maintain living a healthy lifestyle.
That’s what sparked Demitrius’ idea for We Heart Health. He wanted to create a resource and a community where people with Multiple Sclerosis could find information about how to live healthier in their life through: Nutrition, Exercise, and Wellness.
In 2014, We Heart Health received it’s 501c3 status and the foundation was slowly put into place. Its been over a year now and Demitrius has finally launched the We Heart Health Foundation.
Demitrius says that the day he chose to start living his life was owed to his sister. She gave him a book called Curing the Incurable by Jacque Riggs. It wasn’t necessarily the content of book that changed his life, but it was what she told him that stuck with him forever.
“I want you to read this book Demit. It’s about a woman who cured her MS through dietary changes. Demit, I just don’t want you to die.”
It was at that moment he realized that this was his life, this was his disease, this was his future, and he had to be the one to take control of this disease, not anyone else.
Through any battle in life, it takes that one defining moment to make a difference. For Demitrius, it’s about the foundation and platform we have as individuals to help others in any way that we possibly can. The support system of people in his life: whether he knew them previously, knows them now, or will know them soon– these are the people that inspire him to continue fighting his disease each and every day. From the bottom of his heart, he thanks every individual that has supported him on his journey.
Now, Demitrius travels around the world as a Multiple Sclerosis Advocate and health ambassador, spreading awareness to healthier living.