HEART FOR THE GAME
BY STEVE NASH
I come from the same place as Simon Keith, literally and figuratively.
From growing up in Victoria, British Columbia, to attending the same high school for a time, Simon and I share so much. We’re undersized and were overlooked. Like Simon, soccer has been a passion of mine since I was born (even if I ended up in the NBA). We’re the sons of immigrant English and Welsh parents. We are Canadian. We are athletes.
Once you get past some of those facts, Simon’s path to the professional ranks represents a journey with odds much steeper than mine – a self described, slow, white, Canadian point guard, with exactly one scholarship offer.
All athletes have their own personal challenges as they rise through the ranks of their sport. Simon’s were unique. I try and imagine a doctor telling me at age 20 that I had six weeks to live, that my heart was about to give out on me. I envision me and my family having to travel 5,000 miles to finally get the heart that was so desperately needed just as time was about to run out. What Simon was facing at that point in his career would stop most kids in their tracks. But I understand where Simon comes from.
I understand that our shared upbringings allowed us to dream. So Simon decided to take it a step further. A lot of steps further. Long strides, actually. With a pacemaker bulging from his chest, Simon continued to chase the goal to actually play again. Not in a rec league and not just in college.
As a professional.
I have spent my professional career playing against some of the greatest athletes in the world. Each train hard, have a burning desire for their sport and have inevitably overcome some kind of adversity. I have never met an athlete who overcame Simon’s circumstances. To say the odds of playing soccer again were overwhelming doesn’t even begin to explain what he did.
Just living required overcoming long odds. To live for more than 25 years makes Simon one of the longest-living heart transplant recipients in the world. To put that in perspective, the average life expectancy at the time he had the surgery was less than seven years. Put it all together and you have a physical achievement that is truly unparalleled.
All these years later, Simon has gone on a pilgrimage to help readers understand his journey. That pilgrimage includes a dramatic meeting with the father of the young man who died and whose heart was donated to Simon. Their meeting, 25 years after that fateful day when the father lost his son and Simon gained a life, takes place in the perfect setting. The soccer field where the young man had ironically died while playing soccer, looks like any number of fields that bring back memories of our youth. A soccer field for us represents our childhood, and the uninhibited natural passion we have for the game. For Simon this field represented life.
I encourage people to read the story of how Simon became the first person to ever come back from a heart transplant to play professional sports. Making his return was beyond guts and determination.
Obviously, much of that courage comes from his parents, a Welsh father and an English mother who left the mother country in the 1960s, just like my folks did at roughly the same time. Our parents came to Canada to escape economic hardship and make a better life for us. Ironically, both our sets of parents made a brief stop in Saskatchewan before continuing west and settling in Victoria. They were selfless, tough-minded people.
Both our fathers passed an infectious passion for soccer to us. We both played the beautiful game practically from the time we could walk, going through Victoria’s great youth program. For Simon, two older brothers helped push him to greater and greater levels, key to cementing his love for the game. For me, it was a younger brother and younger sister who provided the natural opponents growing up.
As a fellow athlete, I completely identify with the will sports creates in those of us who give ourselves to the game. For each of us, Victoria was the backdrop for this passion. There was a culture of amateur sports that made healthy competition part of our DNA and made dreams of athletic success possible.
In this book, Simon takes you through all of that, from the building blocks his parents provided to make him strong, to the environment in Victoria that provided everything he needed to succeed. That includes a community that supported him and his family in a time of need. The expression that it takes a village to raise a child couldn’t be more appropriate than in this story. The great people of Victoria mobilized to raise money to cover the huge expenses that weren’t covered by Canada’s healthcare program.
With a great community support system in place, coupled with a passion for sports imprinted by our shared youth, Simon attempted something so far beyond people’s imagination that even his closest family and friends were anxious. But belief and desire are strong partners.
Like any great athlete who is told he can’t do something, Simon took that talk and turned it into fuel for his desire. As a result, Simon chose a path that I associate very clearly with. Chasing his goals in the United States (through college and later professional soccer) allowed Simon the opportunity to follow his dreams. What he achieved is simply extraordinary.
This is a story about the human spirit. It will inspire. It will motivate. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry. It is a story of hope and determination. It is an incredible saga. It is a story of almost unbelievable luck coupled with world class perseverance. And after all that it is still so much more.