Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Overcoming Life’s Tics and Twitches

The Tim Howard story is better than the storyline of a record-setting number of saves in the World Cup. He has stared down a far more treacherous enemy than Belgium.

Tim-HowardThe goalie for Team USA suffers from Tourette’s syndrome. Soccer fans, especially in Britain where Howard played professionally, know all about it. But johnny-come-lately World Cup watchers like me had no idea.

Team USA lost yesterday 2-1 to Belgium in the the World Cup knockout round, which Americans would call the Sweet 16. There was a lot of emotion before, during and after the game. Howard seemed stoked, as his repeated saves kept the Yanks in the match. But in actuality he was actively managing his emotions. He has to.

Howard told The Washington Post that his affliction causes uncontrollable tics and twitches. Somehow, when opposing strikers are bearing down on him, Howard can focus his muscles and the tics and twitches stop. His “muscles move miraculously.”

He says he can’t explain it, but thinks “it’s probably because at that moment my concentration on the game is stronger than the Tourette’s syndrome.”

Howard’s sterling play against Belgium created an international buzz and earned him worldwide respect. That’s not always how he has been treated on the pitch.

As Post reporter Terrence Moody wrote, the British media and soccer fans openly and cruelly ridiculed Howard. He was taunted as an “American with a brain disorder” and referred to as “handicapped” and “retarded.”

Fans of Manchester United, the legendary British soccer team that recruited Howard in 2003, “serenaded ” him with a a lusty, low-brow takeoff of the Mary Poppins song, “Chim Chim Charee.” Little wonder he returned to the United States to continue his soccer career.

Howard, who is now 35 and may or may not play in another World Cup, isn’t put off by being in the national limelight, even as he experiences his tics and twitches on television. “I think it’s kind of cool,” he told Moody.

tim-howard-1Howard’s play was a gift to Americans who cheered on their national team, whether or not they had any glimmer of an idea of what makes soccer tick. Howard’s mother believes soccer was God’s gift to Howard. She said it provided him with an escape and totally absorbed his energy. He was so busy, he didn’t have time to be afflicted.

The World Cup has had its low moments with flops, bizarre haircuts and a player who bit an opponent. Howard stands high above all that. He is a terrific soccer goalie. He is an even more terrific example of how each of us can overcome our tics and twitches, if only in the moment of stopping someone else from scoring a goal.

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