By Sgt. Jessica Fimbres, XVIII Abn. Corps PAOJune 12, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Army News Service, June 12, 2009) -- For an hour every Saturday, Jakob Curran feels like a superstar. Thanks to the help of a dedicated coach and Soldier, the determined 12-year-old has been doing something no one thought possible.
When Jakob was 19-months-old, he was diagnosed with moderate cerebral palsy. In 2003, he was diagnosed with autism.
Today, Jakob is on a Fort Bragg soccer field. He plays for the Strykers, a team coached by Sgt. 1st Class Sebastian Campos, the property book noncommissioned officer-in-charge for 307th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
"Because of his physical limitations, he's allowed to play as a 12th man on the field," Campos said. "But he goes for the ball, and he gets in the middle of it."
Tracy Curran, Jakob's mother and spouse of a Fort Bragg Soldier, wanted to get Jakob involved in youth sports, but hadn't found a youth sports program that would support her son's needs.
"I went to enroll my younger son, Joshua, and I asked about 'What do you think about giving Jakob the opportunity to be on a team''" Tracy said.
Fort Bragg Youth Sports agreed to evaluate Jakob to determine if they could place him on a team based on his needs.
"The Special Needs Accommodations Process Team decided right away they could do it," Tracy said. "And they knew the right coach for him."
At the first practice, Jakob wouldn't get out of the car. That's when the right person needed to step in - that person was Campos.
Campos' first hurdle was to convince Jakob to get out on the field with the rest of the team.
"So I brought my daughter, Naiha out here to help mentor the team," Campos said. "Jakob took one look at her and came out on the field."
Naiha Campos, a junior at South View High School in Hope Mills, works with Jakob on his ball skills and running drills. She says she enjoys getting the chance to share her love of soccer with a new generation of players.
"These kids are just fun," she said. "The best part about mentoring is watching them smile when they get it right."
Despite Naiha's success with Jakob, there was still doubt as to what his role would be on the team.
Tracy thought Jakob would get to wear the team uniform, sit on the bench and cheer his team on. She never imagined she'd get to watch both of her sons play soccer together. Jakob has changed in ways no one thought possible, Tracy said.
"He'd never been able to touch his toes before," she said. "Now he can touch his toes without falling over. His stride has improved. He used to struggle to get up if there was no one around to help him, but now he can get up without help."
Tracy admits she was unsure about letting Jakob play on the field, but has been pleased with the interactions with other players.
"He's never been pushed over, never been made fun of," Tracy said. "The kids have been just fabulous. They give him high fives. They're very supportive. Even players and parents from opposing teams will cheer him on."
A little nudging from Campos has allowed Jakob to realize his abilities.
"When he first started coming out on the field, he'd tell me he couldn't run," Campos said. "So I told him 'Don't tell me what you can't do. Show me what you can do.'"
It wasn't long before Jakob started lining up to do running drills with the rest of his team.
"He doesn't even need any prodding to get out there anymore," Tracy said. "He knows what to do and he just goes."
For the last game of the season, Coach Campos wanted Jakob to play the entire game.
"That's our goal for this weekend," he said. "We want Jakob to get out on the field and be in the game for all four quarters."
On Saturday Jakob played on the field the entire game, helping the Strykers achieve a 6-1 victory. He gave the "thumbs up" to his mom on the sidelines and high-fived the coach who got him there.