Soccer hero gives a medal, gains 11-year-old's heart Family finds resident who gave bronze to quadriplegic boy

January 31, 1996|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Hamisi Amani-Dove's soccer team placed third at the U.S. Olympic Festival in Denver in July, but the Hickory Ridge man didn't bring home the bronze medal he won.

While signing autographs after the game, he noticed young Jeff Wolf in his wheelchair -- and slipped the award from his neck to the boy's, stunning Jeff and his family and teammates representing the North region of the United States.

"The kids were asking for our sweaty socks, our shirts, whatever we'd give them," recalled Mr. Amani-Dove, a 22-year-old from Clary's Forest in west Columbia, who left yesterday to pursue a professional soccer career in Europe.

"I was signing a hat when I saw Jeff next to his dad," he said. "I just thought, 'I don't have anything else to give' so I gave him my medal."

Receiving the medal from the Maryland soccer player meant a great deal to Jeff Wolf, an 11-year-old from Fort Morgan, Colo., and his family, who are amazed that a stranger would give up something he worked so hard to achieve.

"Right after he finished signing our older son Jason's cap, he told us to wait a minute," said Jeff's mother, Mary Wolf. "And then he took the medal from around his neck and proudly placed it around Jeff's. My husband and I were just dumbfounded. We all were so surprised that we couldn't say anything."

Three years before, Jeff might have dreamed of glory on the soccer field. But a trampoline accident left Jeff, an active, healthy 8-year-old who loved to play soccer, a quadriplegic. Through therapy, he is slowly regaining some movement.

With eye movements and cries he uses to communicate, Jeff told his parents that he wanted to wear the medal to church and school, and even asked to wear it at breakfast the next day.

"We have it hanging on the dresser over the top of the mirror where he can see it every day," Mrs. Wolf said.

For months, she and her husband, Bob, tried to contact Mr. Amani-Dove through soccer festival coordinators, soccer organizations and, finally, local newspapers.

"We were just so surprised at the time. And I really wanted to thank him," Mrs. Wolf said.

The Wolfs also wanted to know more about the stranger who gave Jeff the medal.

Mr. Amani-Dove played down the gift.

"It was very important to me, but the competition is what matters -- the fun, the athletes, the game," he said. "Winning the medal is secondary."

It wasn't his first medal. He'd won a gold and a silver in two previous Olympic Festivals.

"I don't care how many times you win," he said. "Every time means a lot."

His teammates were surprised by his gesture.

"They tried telling me I should keep it. When I was getting on the bus, the father came to the window and said, 'You deserve this.' But I said no. It was just a token -- a gift.

"I just knew [Jeff] would never have the chance to compete like that. So I gave it to him."

When Mr. Amani-Dove got home, he didn't tell his family what he had done.

"He just said, 'Mom, I don't have the medal,' " said Lillian B. Dove, his mother. "I almost had to pull it out of him. He was just so nonchalant about it. But then, he's never gotten a big head about things. He handles his success very well."

She wasn't surprised by her son's generosity.

"It's a typical kind of thing for him. He's been sensitive to children with disabilities from an early age," she said.

"When he attended [Harper's Choice] middle school, they had a program where students had to do volunteer work as part of the eighth-grade curriculum. He worked in the gym at Cedar Lane. I remember him saying he enjoyed it because he could help [students] do things like shoot a basket -- things that came natural to him."

She called his humility characteristic.

"I'm really proud of him. I could imagine how these parents must have felt. You have no idea until you have your own children, but you want all these wonderful things for your kids."

Those are Mrs. Wolf's sentiments exactly. "I still cry thinking about it," she said.

Mr. Amani-Dove, who has completed his junior year at Rutgers University, wants to play pro soccer in Holland and left with his father, Sam "Amani" Dove, to get settled in Amsterdam before tryouts.

Though Mrs. Wolf wasn't able to thank Mr. Amani-Dove personally before he left, she did speak with his father. "It was exciting. I enjoyed hearing about his background -- how long he'd been playing and pursuing his dreams. Of course, it was nice to finally thank them.

"It's going to be neat to be able to follow his career," said Mrs. Wolf, who plans on staying in touch with the Columbian she considers a hero.

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