Growing up in a small town in Central Mexico, Adolfo was no stranger to the two biggest problems plaguing his hometown: poverty and drugs.
“Most of the people who live here are dedicated to working in the countryside. I have three older brothers and one younger brother, and even as small children, we had to go to the fields on the weekends, then return home and buy ourselves a soda to share,” he remembered.
The situation took a turn for the worse when Adolfo was just 12. “There was a very large flood in my hometown, and it destroyed everything. It destroyed our cotton, destroyed our corn, destroyed our beans. My parents had to go to another city to work so that we could study and have something to eat.”
Adolfo and his brothers moved in with their elderly grandparents. “It was very difficult because — just imagine, at age 12, when you are still a child, you have to wake up without your mother, without your father, without your sisters. Your grandparents are too old to take care of you like your parents would do. So you have to learn to wash your own clothes, you have to learn to cook for yourself, you have to learn that sometimes you’ll get sick and there will be no one to care for you.”
To make things even more complicated, Adolfo’s grandparents lived in an area rampant with drug use, exposing the young boy to scenes no child should see. “I saw so many people taking drugs —marijuana, cocaine, people injecting themselves with needles, inhaling things right outside my house. I would open a door or a window and there they were, some drinking beer, some passed out on drugs. I saw many violent fights. On one occasion, I saw a person hit someone so hard that his face bled and looked very ugly. When I saw that, I said, ‘This is not what I want for myself.'”
Naturally, without his parents around to point him in the right direction, young Adolfo wasn’t sure how to escape his current circumstances. As fate would have it, he soon learned about a nearby community soccer program: Saved by Soccer, run by Stephen and Marcela.
Eager for a chance to meet people his own age, he signed up — and he soon realized that this team had more than just soccer goals in mind. Slowly, Adolfo’s life began to change.
“Before games we would pray and remind ourselves not to let the sadness and pain inside us turn into violence. It wasn’t easy, but soccer began to change us. We stopped looking at our rivals as people we had to hurt, but instead they were people who helped us grow, who motivated us to succeed,” Adolfo remembered. “And we would go home after games and eat dinner together — it was in those moments that I would realize I wasn’t alone any more.”
The Stephen and Marcela expanded that sense of community into every area of their students’ lives. They taught Adolfo how to speak correctly, dress well, use table manners, behave like a gentleman, and how to excel in school — all the lessons his parents couldn’t be there to teach him.
“My entire lifestyle totally changed,” he said. “Soccer became my refuge, a way to know there was a different world from the one I looked at every day outside my house. In soccer there were no drugs, no violent fights. It was a chance to run and exercise, to strengthen your heart and increase your health. It was a way out.”
Adolfo went on to complete a bachelor’s degree, as well as a master’s degree and Ph.D. Today he is a professor running an outreach program of his own with friends from his English school days.
“We go to orphanages and take care of children who do not have parents. We bring them toys, we bring them food, we teach them music —all of the things we learned in English school, now we are sharing it. Of course we take soccer balls and play with the kids too!” he says.
For Adolfo, this outreach is a sign that his life has come full circle. “We are giving the love that we received, when before we did not have it ourselves. It really is something very beautiful. I always tell the kids I work with now to stay motivated and that if something bad happens, soccer can be a way out. That’s how soccer changed my life.”
Learn more at savedbysoccer.com