If you dare attempt anything worthwhile in this life you’re eventually going to meet an obstacle that seems impossible. It may be a proverbial boulder too heavy to move or a mountain too tall to climb. How we respond shows the world exactly who we truly are. For Jake Olsen his mountain came at just 12 years old. The way he has responded is a blueprint for competitors everywhere to follow as they make their own climb.
Stricken with a rare ocular cancer that took one eye at only 8 months of age, Jake battled cancer throughout his childhood. Finally, after 12 years of fighting the young man lost his other eye to the vicious disease. Before becoming a teenager he’d already scaled one mountain and stood at the base of another. Growing up is difficult enough when equipped with all of your senses, Olsen was forced to traverse that path blind.
In the months leading up to his final surgery Jake, a lifelong USC fan, had embedded himself in the hearts and minds of the Trojan football team. He’d spent his childhood playing youth football and dreaming of running out of the tunnel at The Coliseum. After hearing his story Coach Pete Carroll invited the young man to join the team at practice. The Trojans were immediately drawn to the boys heart. His attitude and fire inspired them.
The relationship continued after Jake had finally lost his sight entirely. He could be found in the USC locker rooms, down on the field during practice and breaking huddles with the Trojans. As he inspired the Trojans with his indomitable will and positive energy the Trojans helped heal him. For a football player there is beauty in the smell of the fresh cut grass and the sounds of pads crashing. You don’t need to see the field to see the beauty of the game.
Earlier this year Jake was struck with the urge that afflicts all former players at one point or another. He wanted to strap it up and play again.
How could a blind person possibly contribute in a game that requires such spatial awareness and response time? While everyone else had questions and skepticism, the Olsen’s had faith. As we all know, all a competitor needs is one chance.
Jake’s chance would come as a long snapper. Through sheer will he worked himself into a position as the teams snapper on extra points. A teammate guides him to the ball and the guard taps his leg to signal the snap. Fitting that in football, the ultimate of team games, Jake relies on his teammates every time he takes the field.
Not content with conquering his own obstacles, the young man has started a foundation to assist other young people who’ve lost their sight. Out Of Sight Faith provides kids with the technology necessary to provide their education when it might not otherwise be available. Jake is also making his round as a speaker. He travels the country telling his story and giving others the tools to climb their own mountains.
Jake Olsen has made a life of overcoming obstacles. Here is a young man who has lost so much and chooses to focus instead on his blessings. His sight may be gone but his spirit remains intact. He relies on teammates to lead him onto the field but off the field it is he who sets a course for all competitors to follow. Don’t be alarmed at his lack of vision, Jake Olsen knows where he is going. We’d all do well to follow his lead.