From the youngest of fans to the parents and family members, meeting your hero in person can be a daunting experience. However, Caitlin Kinser, Director of Community Relations for the Colorado Rapids, can speak for the genuine, thoughtful person Tim Howard is when he meets with his fellow TS families through Howard’s Heroes. “It’s a great program and I’ve been very lucky and fortunate enough to be part of it with him,” she says. “He’s what you hope every professional athlete is like when they’re not on the pitch.”
Fans can see firsthand how intense and intimidating Howard can be between the lines, but Kinser points out that he’s able to flip that persona post-match so he can relate to his special guests, regardless of the match’s outcome.
“You see him on the field, and if it’s a loss you can tell he’s upset, depending on how the game goes how’s this going to go—is he going to be ok? The very first time I remember being so nervous about it and he walked in with the biggest smile on his face and could not have been nicer and so willing to be there with that family,” Caitlin remembers. “It was as if he didn’t just play this game and lose. It was all about the kid, all about the family. Truly, ever since the first one until now, win or lose he’s just incredible.”
Howard himself is aware of his mentality on the pitch, but understands that he has a responsibility that means taking a different point of view from the heat of battle. “I see that transition myself because I’m a monster when I come off the field, particularly if it’s a bad game–I don’t want to see anybody, I don’t want to speak to anybody, I just want to wallow and I do.”
“But also there’s a switch and I know, for me more than anything, sometimes someone might be from the city (the match is in), but if they come to the Kansas City game, they might not be from Kansas City. They might have driven four hours to see me so that really plays on my heart and I’m cognizant of that–they came here and made an effort.”
“This is a soccer game, I’ll deal with it in 10 minutes, but right now this is important,” he explains. “This transcends winning and losing, and quite honestly, it’s something that we connect on, it’s a bond we have—myself and the children, and the parents and siblings—it’s definitely a unique situation for me. Like I said, there’s times when all I want to do is wallow in the suffering and be annoyed, or vice versa we won the game, I’m excited, and oh yeah…I’m going to meet with my Howard’s Heroes family.”
As you can expect, Tim is very private about those he meets, and oftentimes no one notices or is around except those involved. It’s that private time when families and kids with TS can just relax and meet a new friend, who happens to be one of the United States’ greatest football players but also has something very significant in common.
“When they first come in I’ll introduce him to the kids and the family and (they) just talk about the evening, just get their background–where are they from, what are the kids’ interests?” explains Kinser about the general plan for the meet-and-greets. “He’ll start asking them questions, and you end up seeing a lot of parents questions specifically about ‘what did your mom do, how did your mom deal with this?’ and then you see the shift of these parents wanting to know.”
“The best story I can tell is when I was in high school I tried to hide my TS, which a lot of kids do and you don’t want to talk about it,” Howard recalls. “I was a popular kid, I had popular friends, I didn’t get bullied, we were all friends and they loved me because I could dunk the basketball or score a goal, and we were all just good friends. I was lucky in that regard,” says the superstar who, admittedly, had things a bit easier than many kids today.
“I like to hear the amazing things they’re doing outside of school, outside the playing field,” says Howard, who repeatedly says that the kids end up inspiring him. “I’m blown away by some of these 8, 9, 10 year old, teenage boys and girls who say, ‘I go up in front of my class at the beginning of the school year and tell my teacher that’s what this is, and I tell my classmates’, and I’m just speechless. I was in the back trying to hide, so I get inspired as well.”
What’s next for Howard’s Heros?
As for the future of Howard’s Heroes, that remains to be discussed as Tim’s playing career ends with this season in Colorado. He will move on to his adopted hometown of Memphis to begin work in the front office as a minority owner of USL side Memphis 901 FC, but will not be retiring from the TS community at all. “It’s been on our agenda – how do we move that forward?” he says. “Probably, moving a lot of it to Memphis and the USL, in terms of traveling around.”
“Obviously, as a team owner I’ll be at all the games so I’ll have an opportunity to do some Howard’s Heroes things and we hope the teams in the USL open their arms to it as well. When I come back here, and I’ll come back here, it’s been my home for the last 3 or 4 years, certainly extending that offer and opportunity when it presents itself. For me, I want to utilize my time when I come back to the Rapids as best I can.”
“What I intend to do is sit down with our marketing team in Memphis, because it ran so smoothly here, help them in any way I can,” explains Howard of his next career phase and where that takes the TS fight. “Then it’s really casting a line and if we offer and no one accepts it, there’s no problem. We’ll offer it to the Memphis and mid-South community and we’ll see what presents itself. It’s spreading the word. I’m leaving Colorado so there’s no more Howard’s Heroes on a matchday basis, so we need to move that and spread the word. I’ll always be a champion for this cause.”
Another opportunity that Tim has undertaken in helping the Tourette syndrome community is the Tim Howard Leadership Academy, part of the New Jersey Center for Tourette syndrome. “It’s a pretty awesome thing to be a part of,” says Howard with a huge grin on his face. “At the Tim Howard Leadership Academy, we’re giving young people tools to go out in the world and advocate for themselves. Ultimately, you have to walk down the street alone or go into the store alone or the classroom alone, and you have to have tools to cope and advocate for yourself.”
As far as a message Tim would like to leave everyone when they think of TS, he says, “It’s not going away. My TS isn’t going away, people whose families are dealing with it and young people are dealing with it it’s not going away tomorrow or ever. It’s something we’ll continue to work towards and make life better and give opportunities.”