When most parents think of soccer they imagine their child’s AYSO games, or the L.A. Galaxy, or maybe the World Cup.
For Jamie and Oliver Wyss, the image is different.
The Laguna Niguel couple uses soccer as a tool to fight childhood cancers. They’re co-founders of Soccer for Hope, a nonprofit that raises money and awareness to battle juvenile cancers and other life-threatening diseases.
Their children, Abella and Hudson, both fought a rare cancer that causes brain tumors. Hudson was diagnosed at age 10 months and was 3 when he died in June 2008 from Choroid Plexus Carcinoma. Abella was diagnosed at age 4. She died last December, at age 11, from Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma.
The Wyss’ mission is personal, but it didn’t start out that way.
“We started the foundation five years before we even had kids. … When our children, Hudson and Abella, were diagnosed, it became a lot more personal,” said Oliver Wyss, who also battled a life-threatening illness, aplastic anemia.
“Having two children with cancer, and being founders, the message became very strong,” he said.
“Our children inspired a lot of children suffering from juvenile cancer.”
Eighteen years ago, Oliver Wyss was playing professional soccer when he was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, and started receiving treatment at the City of Hope. His girlfriend at the time, now his wife, Jamie, helped care for him and, while at the hospital, the couple saw children battling cancers.
They decided to make the children’s battle part of their lives.
“We wanted to give back to the doctors and nurses who we credit with saving my life, and (to) make a difference for patients and children,” Oliver said.
Childhood cancers touch entire families, draining emotions and finances. The Wyss couple said their group, Soccer for Hope, does what it can to help, linking families to groups such as the We Can Pediatric Brain Tumor Network. The idea is to get the family through a tough process and help kids have normal childhoods.
The primary tool for their work is a fundraiser, the Soccer for Hope skills camp. This year’s Soccer for Hope, slated for Aug. 18-21 in Mission Viejo, will be the 17th time the camp has been held. Typically, 200 to 300 players, ages 5 to 14, turn out for the multiday camp. It’s the biggest charity soccer camp supporting juvenile cancer.
Oliver Wyss, who coaches club soccer and recently was named head coach for the soccer program at JSerra High in San Juan Capistrano, said the camp has a few non-soccer features.
The first and last day of the camp, for example, includes a free bone marrow sign-up, testing people who are willing to give life-saving bone marrow to strangers. Oliver Wyss said he’s alive because he received such a transplant.