Editor’s note: Tonia Goyal is the mother of Bheem Goyal, who you might remember as signing for the Sounders and playing against Borussia Dortmund in 2019. She submitted this story to Sounder at Heart and we were happy to run it.
My son, Bheem, became a Sounders fan for life in kindergarten when he first started playing soccer in the local league. We went to the Decision Day match against RSL in 2016 and then caught the first playoff victory against Sporting KC. Two big wins and Bheem was hooked! We watched the rest of the playoff games on TV with friends; after 10 minutes the other kids wandered off, but Bheem watched every single minute. Winning the MLS Cup that first year sealed his fate as a lifelong fan.
Two years later, Bheem was diagnosed with leukemia. That’s when I truly learned how extraordinary the Sounders are. Many fans know Bheem’s Make-a-Wish story and the incredible, generous things the Club did to lift the spirits of our sick little boy, giving him confidence and giving our family something to look forward to. But today, as we kick off Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, I want to share some of the things you may not know about how the Sounders support children like Bheem.
You may have seen the You Shall Not Pass scarf that Stefan Frei designed for Scarves Fighting Cancer. My all-time favorite Sounders scarf has raised thousands and thousands of dollars for the Kick Childhood Cancer Guild at Seattle Children’s. This year, he has a new project for this annual sale, a collaboration with glassybaby. He worked with the glass artists at glassbaby to bring his vision to life. I haven’t seen it yet, but I know you can order one only through the annual Scarves Fighting Cancer sale.
What? You don’t know about the Scarves Fighting Cancer sale? A local mom started this annual sale in 2017 while her daughter was in cancer treatment at Seattle Children’s. With the support of Stefan, Cristian, Coach Schmetzer and so many others, they have raised over $130,000 for immunotherapy research at Seattle Children’s. It happens for just a few weeks each September. Sign up on their homepage to be the first to know when the sale starts. I hit the road each day with my morning coffee in my Insufferable tumbler!
Will Bruin has a collaboration of his own going. He worked with Georgetown Brewing to create a special small batch of beer for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Known as “Will Brewin’s Thumbs Up IPA,” 100% of the proceeds will go to funding immunotherapy at Seattle Children’s. I asked Will why he volunteered for this project.
“From my early days as a pro, I could see the impact we had on kids when we visited the hospitals. I mean, a simple visit from us really made them smile. So I’ve always understood that I can help make a difference. But what really opened my eyes and strengthened my commitment was when I became a dad. I don’t know what it’s like to walk in those parents’ shoes, but just imagining it is painful. If I can do a project like this to help, count me in.”
Thumbs Up IPA debuts in the Georgetown Brewing tap room on Sept. 8. It’s going to go fast, so don’t miss out. You can get in line behind me.
Kelyn Rowe is a longtime supporter of the Jessie Rees Foundation and Jessie’s Never Ever Give Up message for kids fighting cancer. While with New England, he created “Kelyn’s NEGU Crew” to give childhood cancer warriors a memorable game day experience.
“My goal for Kelyn’s NEGU Crew was to bring kids away from the hardships they have faced and make them smile,” Rowe said. “I wanted to share with them the same excitement the game brings to me.”
Kelyn has continued this work since coming home to Seattle with a fundraiser for NEGU in partnership with local winery, Two Vintners. On his own, he reached out to Seattle Children’s about visiting kids in the hospital and looks forward to resuming these visits as soon as they are possible again.
Mr. Sounder, Zach Scott, has been an ardent supporter of childhood cancer research since before his retirement in 2017. He has a very close family friend whose young daughter is a brain cancer survivor. He knows the struggle of families like mine more than most. Each September, he hosts the “Kick Childhood Cancer with Zach Scott” online auction. Last month, my family joined a couple other local cancer families to get treasures autographed for his auction. All I can tell you is that this auction is not to be missed. Again, you can find about this by signing up at the Scarves Fighting Cancer website.
Zach also teamed up with the Sounders and our local blood bank, Bloodworks Northwest to promote blood donation during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. So many people have no idea how children need frequent transfusions of blood and platelets during cancer treatment. I lost count of how many Bheem had but it was in the double digits. Zach isn’t the only one who helped spread the word. I’ve seen Brad Evans, Roger Levesque, Chad Marshall all donating blood. We even ran into Will Bruin when he came out for Zach’s Out for Blood drive. Our team gives their actual blood to help kids like Bheem! But more than anything, I am so grateful to them for spreading awareness of the need and inspiring others to donate too. Bheem literally could not have continued treatment without blood from donors.
Brad Evans knows a thing or two about childhood cancer research. His ‘Be Rad’ t-shirts have benefitted the work at Seattle Children’s Ben Towne Center and they are still for sale today. Brad delivered the 2019 MLS Championship ring to Bheem and kicked around our backyard with him. His genuine kindness won over this mom. He is a philanthropist at heart, which you can see from his Contrib venture. I’m looking forward to Seattle Children’s and Fred Hutch joining the Contrib team.
I know I’m forgetting some names, but so many players helped my son weather the mighty storm that is childhood cancer. Nico Lodeiro, Jordan Morris, and Stefan Frei sent video messages with words of encouragement to Bheem during his toughest months of treatment. Alex Roldan and Bryan Meredith even visited Bheem at the hospital after one of Bheem’s chemotherapy treatments! And I know these acts of kindness are not limited to Bheem. We know of many kids whose spirits were lifted by messages, shared video games, Sounders gifts and more. These things don’t end up on social media or in press releases. They’re just things the guys do because they care.
It’s not just the players. I bet Coach Schmetzer will “Go Gold” for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. See if you can spot him wearing his gold tie in upcoming games, just as he has for the past few Septembers. It’s little things like this that touch my heart.
These are the guys whose names you know. But there are countless Sounders staff behind the scenes who help make the MLS Kick Childhood Cancer initiative a success. They also work with the Austen Everett Foundation to encourage kids by making them honorary team captains. They do big and small things all year long to make a difference.
Last, but far from the least, I can’t forget the Fans. You ask for photos with my son and for his autograph. You donate blood. You donate money. Bheem joined ECS this year and is so proud to count himself among you. You serenaded him with a song just for him! “Supa Bheem” made my eyes well up while my son’s joy and confidence soared. When my friend started Scarves Fighting Cancer, she said it was a leap of faith but she simply knew the fans would show up to support it. And you did. Every scarf you buy, every pint of Thumbs Up IPA… it all adds up. You all make a difference.
Much of the money raised through these endeavors support the ground-breaking immunotherapy research and trials at Seattle Children’s. This research is not about beating the odds, it’s about changing them. Because of the scarcity of funding for childhood cancer research, every dollar raised is absolutely vital. I am so grateful to the Sounders for using their platform to raise awareness. Awareness is a catalyst for a cure. My thanks to the players who take the time to support fundraisers and to make warriors like Bheem feel special. We are so fortunate to have these generous guys in our community. I am so proud to be your fan.