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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 12, 2009

Cruz-Allen gets an unexpected offer to play soccer

By Jordan J. Michael

GUILDERLAND –– Gabriel Cruz-Allen went to see comedian Josh Blue at Proctor’s Theatre last fall. He got big laughs and one big opportunity.

Cruz, 20, graduated from Guilderland High School in 2006. He has been living with cerebral palsy since birth. Cerebral palsy is usually caused by brain damage and marked by muscular impairment.

“Blue has the same condition that I do, that’s why I really wanted to see his stand-up,” said Cruz-Allen, a Hudson Valley Community College student. “My sister Elena and I were laughing hysterically because he’s making fun of his disability. Not in a self- detrimental way or anything.”

Blue, who is also a member of the United States Paralympics soccer team, invited the crowd to come chat with him after the show. Cruz-Allen decided to talk to the comedian about their shared disability.

“I told him I had cerebral palsy and he looked at me like, ‘Really, I couldn’t tell,’” Cruz-Allen said. Blue was voted the Last Comic Standing on the NBC reality show with that name.

 “I told him that I wanted to get more involved in awareness about disabilities and he started talking about soccer,” said Cruz-Allen.

It didn’t take long for Blue to give Cruz-Allen a shot at being on the Paralympics soccer team. Blue told Cruz-Allen to call the team’s manager, Dana Schoenwetter, to set something up.

“I couldn’t even believe it at first. A national soccer team? No way,” said Cruz-Allen. “I thought I was just another fan going for an autograph. Well, I got the autograph and an unbelievable chance at something bigger than me.”

Cruz-Allen got the team manager on the phone and eventually talked to Head Coach Jay Hoffman. The coach told Cruz-Allen to send him a video of him doing some physical activities.

“My sister helped me post a video of me running up and down the street,” Cruz-Allen said. “We put the video on You Tube and called it ‘Gabe Running.’ They liked the clip and they called me to tell me I was on the team.”

Cruz-Allen’s spot on the United States Paralympics soccer team was secure. He will be leaving this Sunday for training in California. He will return on Jan 22. The team is paying for almost all of his expenses.

“I’m so glad that I went to Blue’s show and I’m still really surprised,” said Cruz-Allen. “We get to practice, train, and play scrimmages for a week. They even sent me this huge bag of equipment. They’re paying for everything. How could I not go?”

A lift for the spirit

Cerebral palsy affects the right portion of Cruz-Allen’s body. The left side of his brain was damaged due to a seizure after birth. “I don’t have much trouble with speech. It’s mainly physical,” he said.

Cruz-Allen told The Enterprise that he wore leg braces when he was young, but started to resist them when he entered high school. He has gone back to wearing the braces. “I realized after a while that I should take care of my body,” he said.

Even though Cruz-Allen has limited mobility with his right side, he can still drive with special equipment installed in his car.

“I use my left foot and left hand to drive. It’s a weird arrangement,” said Cruz-Allen. “I have a left foot pedal and a left hand-turning mechanism. I really wanted a license because I always had to take the bus in high school. Now I can drive to class.”

Cruz-Allen was in a recreational soccer league in sixth grade, but hasn’t played much since.

“I’ve been a big fan of American football, but the door to soccer has opened up,” Cruz-Allen said. “I was never a serious soccer player. Now, I might be,”

“I haven’t even played many sports because of my condition. I played some lacrosse in high school,” Cruz-Allen said. “Blue was joking about how the team never scores any goals and that the players miss the ball. I am a little nervous though.”

Cruz-Allen has been going to the gym frequently since making the team and he wants to get more serious about soccer. “Hoffman said I should have a soccer ball with me at all times,” said Cruz-Allen. “I won’t sleep with it, but I’ll see what I can do.

“Being part of this national team has really boosted my self-esteem,” he said. “I used to be really down on myself because I had a disability. But now my spirits are lifted.”

The Paralympics team has at least 20 members from around the country. Jasper Wilson is another athlete from the Capital Region who is going on the trip on Sunday. He’s a student at The Doane Stewart School in Albany.

“I met Wilson a while ago and found out that he’s been to training camp before,” said Cruz-Allen. “I’m taking the same flight as him. He said he would show me the ropes.”

The next Paralympics is in 2012 in London, following the regular Olympics. The soccer team will be playing other clubs from around the world.

“It’s crazy to think that one day I’ll be sharing a field with another disabled person from another culture,” Cruz-Allen said. “It’s very humbling to be able to relate to them.”

Cruz-Allen has never been to California and this will not be his last time. The team will have plenty of training camps over the next few years. There is another one scheduled for April.

“My whole world has been flipped upside down,” said Cruz-Allen. “I can develop myself more as a human being and an athlete. Also, I’ll make friends from a lot of different places.”

“I’ve been blessed with some good luck,” Cruz-Allen said. “This could happen to anyone out there. I believe that my situation will give other disabled people some much needed hope.”

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