Tim Howard: A Goalkeeper Well Beyond Soccer

A soccer fan I am not. But I must admit, the FIFA World Cup spirit has been fun to have around. And, yes, I’ve watched portions of several games.

Maybe you knew this – I learned of it just a week ago. The goalkeeper for the United States’ Word Cup team is Tim Howard. Seems he’s also Manchester United’s (England) goalkeeper, as well.

And to bang the point home that I’m not a big soccer fan; though I’d heard of them, I had no clue Manchester United is the most well known soccer team in the universe – and considered one of the top sports franchises in the world.

Well, all of this is just ducky; but what makes Tim Howard interesting to me transcends soccer. What caught my attention was his endurance of Tourette’s Syndrome.

As you may know, Tourette’s features multiple motor and vocal tics. But what you may not know is it may also present in obsessions, compulsions, hyperactivity, inattention, and mood instability.

And then there’s the symptom that, very cruelly, gets the most press – coprolalia – outbursts of swearing, or the involuntary uttering of obscenities and/or socially inappropriate and derogatory comments.

Coprolalia, ignorantly thought of as a primary symptom of Tourette’s – if not the identifying symptom – presents in only some 10% of cases. And the fact of the matter is it isn’t even required to meet diagnostic criteria for Tourette’s. Though it’s certainly a neurological disorder, Tourette’s is also included in the DSM-IV-TR, referred to as Tourette’s Disorder.

Tourettte’s Syndrome was named for 19th Century French physician, Georges Albert Édouard Brutus Gilles de la Tourette (good thing they didn’t name it Brutus’ Syndrome), who first identified the disorder. Tourette’s is typically diagnosed before the age of 18, and it’s thought to impact the lives of 1 out of 2,500 people.

Tim Howard was diagnosed with Tourette’s when he was 9 years old, his initial symptomatology being counting, as well as touching and straightening things. Howard says his disorder didn’t cause too many problems during his school years because he was fortunate enough to be a big kid, very popular, and participated in every sport he could.

Howard recalls, during a game as a kid, twitching and ticking; and overhearing someone say, “Watch Tim.” Upon hearing the cue he focused as hard as he could on his symptoms and made them stop. And he took great pleasure in watching those who were supposed to be watching him, as they stared at the instigator like he was the one who was crazy.

Not surprisingly, Howard finds his symptoms most difficult to manage when he’s under stress, nervous, or anxious. And it’s the same for most of us, isn’t it? I did a piece on intrusive thoughts just the other day, and reported mine ramped-up when I was stressed or fatigued.

Hmmm – do you think playing for the life and breath of England’s second largest metropolitan area (7.5 million people) would induce a bit of stress, nervousness, or anxiety? And how ‘bout this – when Howard’s contract was announced, the headlines in some of Manchester’s newspapers were incredibly cruel – one even implying the team had signed a “retarded” player.

Kind of a tough crowd, indeed. But from what I’ve read Howard enjoys a great deal of acceptance these days (as long as he continues to stop goals).

So, amidst all the hub-bub, does Howard take meds? These could include any combination of atypical and old-school antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and anxiolytics. Howard elects not to medicate. And that’s because he’s concerned meds would somehow dull his senses and reflexes.

According to Howard…

“It’s just a battle of the will, your willpower versus what your mind is telling your body to do. And so it’s about suppressing those physical movements, those vocalizations. It’s tough to explain, I suppose.”

Very cool story, if you ask me. And kudos to Tim Howard! Not so much for learning how to manage his disorder and reaching for the stars. I mean, that’s our responsibility as folks enduring emotional or mental health situations.

No, in my book he’s a great man for being forthright regarding his situation and becoming an anti-stigma activist.

It all proves, once again, we who endure emotional and mental disorders are incredibly strong individuals who can actually thrive in this thing called life.

How ‘bout it, chipur readers – your comments are always welcome. Won’t you?

Thanks to CBS News
Image credit: sports-uncut.com