POWER SOCCER: A Legacy Left by Amway's Jim Dornan
POWER SOCCER: A Legacy Left by Amway's Jim Dornan
CAMPAIGN: Amway One by One
The Amway world was saddened this week to hear of the passing of longtime Independent Business Owner and Founders Crown Ambassador Jim Dornan. The Amway One by One team had the privilege of visiting Jim and Nancy Dornan last year to learn about one of their great passions: Power Soccer, a sport – and a community – for people in power wheelchairs. Jim and Nancy were supposed to stop by the game for a quick interview with us. Instead, they spent all afternoon with us at the game, then treated us to dinner. The following story was put together after that visit, and used as the basis of a short video and series of blog posts about their contributions. In honor of Jim, the story is printed below in its entirety. – JH
Introducing Power Soccer
As the soccer game gets underway at the Suwanee Sports Center just outside of Atlanta, Jim and Nancy Dornan cheer from the sidelines. They have been to many games over the years, and have learned to cheer for both sides.
Their son Eric is not playing this game, but sits on the sideline with the Atlanta Tigers, serving as a mentor and coach to the young players. Most of them have only been playing a few years, and have not advanced to Eric’s level yet.
The Tigers’ goalie blocks a shot, takes control of the ball and drives it to nearly mid-field before passing it off to his teammate. He has to scramble back to the goal, because the opposing team steals the ball and begins to set up for another attempt.
And so it goes, back and forth with parents shouting encouragement and coaches shouting advice. The basic principles of the soccer game are no different than the thousands of others that take place around the country, or the millions that take place around the world.
But there is something different about this game. These players are all in power wheelchairs, taking part in an emerging sport called Power Soccer.
The tension builds
The opposing team manages to sneak the 13-inch ball past the Tigers goalie and defense with a cross-court pass. The score is one to nothing. This is worrisome to the Tigers, as scores tend to be few and far between, and every point counts.
Power Soccer is a game of spatial awareness, angles and anticipation. The ball can, and does, bounce off any part of the wheelchair, and measuring speed and distance to affect just the right trajectory can be the difference between a well-placed goal, and an open interception for the opposing team.
Most play happens one-on-one, since the rules do not allow double-teaming. Players must stay at least eight feet away from the two opposing teammates who go after a loose ball. In a one-on-one situation, skill levels determine whether you can outmaneuver your opponent to get the ball on a breakaway, whether a block will knock the ball out of bounds, or whether the ball gets squeezed between two chairs, a struggle for control in a power matchup of speed and balance.
As the Tigers move nervously into half time with at least one goal to overcome, the audience of parents and caregivers takes a breather from the nervous tension of the competition.
Jim and Nancy join the team and meet some of the new players. They are familiar to many as a foundational part of the Power Soccer network. But to understand their story, you have to go back to the 1970s, and to the other side of the country.
Failure is not an option
Jim Dornan was an aeronautical engineer and Nancy was a speech pathologist. But neither was enamored with their jobs, and they had recently been investing more and more of their energy in a new Amway business they were building. They decided to focus on becoming Amway Independent Business Owners full time. Nancy had already left her job so she could be at home for their daughter, Heather. Jim subsequently left his job to focus solely on the business.
What they didn’t plan on was their second child, Eric, being born with Spina Bifida. With their meager health insurance maxed out and multiple surgeries needed for young Eric, their debt quickly grew to more than $200,000. Rather than succumb to despair, Jim and Nancy drew on their faith and determination to overcome these challenges, and to give Eric the support he needed. They declared that failure was not an option, and began working on building their Amway business with renewed energy and focus.
In time, their efforts paid off. Nine years from the start of their business, Jim and Nancy reached the Crown Ambassador level, a monumental success in the Amway world. They eliminated their debt, invested in a custom home to accommodate wheelchairs, and had another child, David, to complete their family of five.
Today, Jim and Nancy Dornan have reached Founders Crown Ambassador level – the highest achievement in Amway. The Amway business built by the Dornans spans 36 countries, organized under an umbrella organization called Network 21, with dedicated staff to meet the needs of thousands of Independent Business Owners worldwide. It also enabled the Dornans to pursue their passion for helping others, in creating the Network of Caring, a charitable organization that helps channel the passions of the Dornans and their Network 21 partners to help people in need around the world.
“This is a family that is hugely impressive,” says Sandy Spielmaker, Vice President of Sales for Amway in the United States. “They made a commitment early on, and as they’ve done well in the business, it’s allowed them to do good in different communities in which they work.”
A growing network of caring
Network of Caring mirrors the success of Network 21 in its global impact. It has grown so big, that the Dornans recently hired a “Chief Significance Officer,” R.D. Saunders, to manage their community projects around the world.
Network of Caring supporters sponsor around 4,200 children each year through World Vision, and have helped nearly 50,000 children historically – the most of any World Vision corporate sponsor. Network of Caring has also built schools and orphan care centers in India, South Africa and Thailand. They have delivered more than 3,800 wheelchairs through Free Wheelchair Mission in half a dozen countries, and provide disaster relief assistance after major catastrophes.
Among all of the causes that the Dornans support, it is evident that helping people with special needs holds a special place in their hearts, and their greatest joy is Power Soccer.
When Eric found Power Soccer, he immediately saw the potential of the sport for anyone in a power wheelchair. And it wasn’t just about the competition. When Eric talks about Power Soccer, it’s also about the psychological and social impact on those who struggle every day with disabilities.
“It gives you a reason to want to get up and do things in the morning,” says Eric. “It’s great to see a lot of friends around your area and get together with them once or twice a week and just have a lot of fun together. Some people [in power wheelchairs] don’t have that many friends. We’re blessed to have a lot of people to help and give better lives to those who are even less fortunate.”
One life lost moves other lives forward
Eric Dornan, now 38, came across the sport when he was 18. There were only a handful of teams at that time and most people had never heard of Power Soccer. Eric, who has always been a very quiet person, began to light up on the court in ways that Jim and Nancy had never seen.
“He gets out there and he stays focused and he takes that ball down,” says Nancy, who remembers the change that came over Eric. “There could be six people coming at him, and he’s just focused on getting the ball over that goal line. I look at that and I think – where is that off the court?”
Around the time Power Soccer was becoming important to Eric, he lost a close friend. His caregiver, Fernando Ruelas, was a special part of Eric’s life, and brought a spirit of kindness and generosity to the whole family. Fernando tragically succumbed to a short bout of cancer at the age of 30, leaving a wide network of friends and family grieving his loss.
In memory of Fernando, the Dornans created the Fernando Foundation in 2002, and took on Power Soccer as its primary cause. They found the perfect person to make the vision into reality – David Ruelas, Fernando’s brother and an avid soccer fan and player himself. The Dornans then put a great team around David by relocating coach Jerry Frick to Atlanta to expand the sport and recruiting Jerome “Pika” Durand from France to develop players and be an ambassador for the sport.
David, Eric, Pika and Jerry – with Jim and Nancy’s support – would help to grow Power Soccer into a network of more than 60 teams across the United States and around the world. Together, they would convene an international committee to develop global standards for the sport, and pave the way for local, national and international competition brackets that would open the door for more players, and more growth.
Yet the driving force for Power Soccer was, and continues to be, the impact it makes on individuals. “Once you play Power Soccer, you will never be the same. Your life will be changed forever,” says David Ruelas, Director of the Fernando Foundation who can often be found as referee at Power Soccer games.
For Nancy, the best way to see the effect of Power Soccer is to watch them playing for the very first time. “No matter what personality, when you put them in that chair the very first time, there’s like a light bulb that goes on,” she says. “They realize – I’m doing something that other kids do. And it doesn’t matter that they can’t use their hands to turn a page in a book or they can’t get up out of their chair. All of the sudden it doesn’t matter. It’s what’s in their head and their heart.”
When the Dornans first set up the Fernando Foundation to enhance the lives of people with disabilities, they realized that Power Soccer was a unique niche, and awareness was very low. “It was something that didn’t exist,” says Jim. “If people in power chairs knew it existed they’d want to play but they just didn’t know it existed. What we’re excited about now is trying to bring it to more people. Because the bigger it gets, the better it all works.”
Challenges and opportunities
It takes a positive attitude to overcome the challenges that face the sport of Power Soccer, and life in a power wheelchair. Costs for wheelchair technology are exceedingly high and not always covered by insurance. Transportation is often the biggest challenge for individuals in wheelchairs, many who are raised by single parents. According to Jerry Frick, the financial and emotional strain of raising a child with special needs increases the rates of divorce and makes most families struggle with finances.
Yet without outlets like Power Soccer, those disabled in all four limbs and confined to power wheelchairs tend to lead isolated lives, often in front of a television or computer screen. Power Soccer creates a reason to emerge, a platform where every person is needed and can be great. And it creates important networks of men and women, and boys and girls, who can share a commonality with a group of peers. Those communities can be hard to find.
“People in manual wheelchairs have a number of sports and activities they engage in,” says Jim. “But, the power chair is tremendously limiting. Even to interact with other people in power chairs is very difficult because most of them were confined to their homes. They didn’t come out to a common place. Power Soccer became not only a sport, but an opportunity to be part of a community … a team … a whole world.”
A vision for the future
The ultimate vision of Power Soccer is to make it so widely available that it is introduced as an International Paralympics game. This is a challenge in and of itself, as many developing countries do not have power wheelchairs. But the leaders of the Fernando Foundation are already making long-term plans, and working with partners like Free Wheelchair Mission to determine how they can design an inexpensive power wheelchair that can function in developing countries as a sustainable solution not only for Power Soccer, but for mobility of those with special needs.
With each challenge comes an opportunity to mobilize the creativity, talent and passion of others to the effort. That’s what you might say are the core competencies of Jim and Nancy Dornan, and what has helped to bring the Power Soccer effort this far.
“This commitment to Power Soccer says a lot about the Dornans,” says Sandy Spielmaker. “It says that they’re visionary, they’re innovative, they’re determined. They know to make a commitment today and do a little bit more tomorrow and just stay at it consistently. It’s just a great model for all of us to look at … All of us have a role and can make a difference. It might be small today. It might be bigger tomorrow.”
The Dornans recently inspired Amway to get involved in supporting Power Soccer, with matching donations that will expand the number of teams and players that have access to Power Soccer, including clinics and camps that help ease new players into the sport, and equipment that puts the investment within reach of struggling families. This is part of a global effort to help children around the world through the Amway One by One Campaign for Children.
“We’re proud and glad to be part of Amway’s vision for One by One, because that’s what we do too,” says Jim. “All around the world, IBOs find needs and inspire us to become involved. We think that helping people learn how to be givers and not just achievers is important to ultimately having the real joy of success. Our energy comes from the things we can leverage through our organization and through this amazing business. And of course, we would love to have more people join with us to help the disabled by being a coach, by recruiting players, or by supporting those who do.”
Late in the second half, the Tigers are keeping the ball downfield. Every attempt increases chances of success. The audience sees fewer solo runs, and more passing. The ball repeatedly goes out of bounds after shot attempts. Both sides become more aggressive. Occasionally two chairs strike with a metallic clang. Once, the ball gets pinched between two chairs and is dragged across the floor, each side maneuvering to make it pop out in their favor.
After several attempts, and multiple changes of direction, the Tigers sneak a shot into the corner of the goal. The game is now tied. The intensity picks up in the final minutes as the opposing team moves the ball to the Tigers’ side, with attempt after attempt.
The audience begins to count down from ten. The time is running out. Five, four, three two, one. Regular time is finished. A couple of minutes are added on, just like in regulation soccer. Back and forth the ball goes, each team focused on one final score. Two minutes later, the whistle blows. Time is over. The game finishes in a tie.
The teams roll by, nodding to each other or shaking hands, then they line up for a group photo. Coach Jerry Frick joins his team, as well as David Ruelas in the yellow referee jersey. They wave over Eric Dornan to join them, then Pika, because everyone wants their picture taken with the superstar. Next, someone looks around for Jim and Nancy, and waves them over.
The photo captures some of the most influential and passionate supporters of Power Soccer, and a moment in time where everyone wins.
AUTHOR: Jesse Hertstein