Elizabeth Chagoya is a happy parent, with two beautiful children and a loving husband. Both of her kids play every single season of AYSO and can’t get enough of it. But just a few years ago, the thought of enrolling her kids in AYSO soccer was a dream that Elizabeth never thought would become a reality.
In 2007, Elizabeth’s two year old son Damian began having some health issues. He was suffering from frequent fevers and had trouble sleeping. The Chagoyas weren’t too concerned—they figured he caught a cold and with proper care, he’d be over it in a few days.
But when the symptoms worsened, Elizabeth decided to take Damian to the hospital. When the blood tests came back, she learned that her baby had leukemia and if he was to have any chance at survival, three years of chemotherapy were required. Just a couple days after this tragic revelation, Elizabeth discovered she was pregnant with their second son, Julian.
“When something like this happens, everything is flipped completely upside down. From then on, our lives consisted entirely of dealing with leukemia and doing our best to keep our child healthy,” says Elizabeth. “We didn’t know anything about ‘regular’ kid stuff. People take a lot for granted. Like kids running around in the store, laughing, misbehaving. We never experienced that.”
Financially, this news was devastating for the family. The Chagoyas were forced to leave their house, give up their home business they spent years building and almost everything else behind to afford treatment for their son.
“My husband was unable to work because we couldn’t leave our boy alone and I quickly ran out of sick days, vacation, everything. It was very difficult.”
But the Chagoyas remained strong. The love for their child and their dream of one day being able to experience the things other families experienced, especially playing sports and cheering on their kid from the sidelines, kept them fighting in the most grueling times.
After three years of chemotherapies, financial struggle, extreme sacrifice and retaining the dream of one day returning to a normal life, the hospital called Elizabeth with big news: it was to be Damian’s last round of chemotherapy. He had overcome leukemia.
“His hair began to grow back, he started to build a little bit of stamina and for the first in our lives, we could think about real family stuff. We started looking at sports we could sign him up for—but we were scared of committing. He didn’t have the stamina, the sun was hurting him and he just couldn’t keep up. That’s when we found AYSO,” says Elizabeth.
From his first day of AYSO soccer, he was hooked. The improvements were drastic in every part of his life. Damian used to have terrible night terrors that would cause him to wake up screaming and lose hours of sleep every night. With AYSO soccer, they went away and whereas before he’d wake up irritated and sluggish, he now woke up refreshed and raring to go every morning. Damian’s stamina began to improve as well and for the first time in his life, he was a part of something he could be proud of and had friends all around him.
“We knew the benefits of this kind of exercise but had no idea the effect would be so extreme. We saw it almost immediately when he developed a voracious appetite! Prior to AYSO, he was a picky eater and struggled to keep from losing weight. Once he began playing, he started finishing his meals and even experimenting with new foods. No one will ever understand the joy a parent feels when watching a previously sick child finally be able to eat their nutritious meal with gusto” said Elizabeth, her voice trembling with emotion.
Damian is now 10 years old. He’s five feet tall and weighs 100 pounds. Whereas before, his skin was pale and he lacked energy, now he has color in his cheeks, is full of life and always has a big bright smile on his face. Damian plays every season for AYSO Region 60 and he gets to play with his brother, Julian.
"I like soccer because I like watching it,” says Damian. “I also love playing soccer, it's awesome. It gets me super tired but it makes me feel like I worked hard. I like how it makes me feel tense but in a good way. I also like wearing a cool uniform, it's great."
“Our family has been slowly crawling back financially but thanks to AYSO we have made huge strides in other areas. We feel a part of the community and that we are actually living life. I am truly grateful for how welcoming AYSO has been to our family and how it has changed our lives. Our kids can’t get enough of it and we are all so excited for season to start. We will always be grateful!”