Blast's Handsor scores on another level

His work with disabled brings special rewards

Soccer

March 27, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

On a recent afternoon, the Blast had finished practice at Du Burns Arena and the players were spent. They couldn't wait to shower, change and head home for some relaxation.

But a few minutes later, forward Chris Handsor, ball in hand, was back on the field and in the middle of another group of players. This time, Handsor was in charge, and the individuals he was working with were Special Olympians.

"I'm tired after practice," said Handsor, 32. "But then they come in and, before I know it, the energy starts to rebuild. I see the smiles on their faces and it warms my heart.

"I don't think you can grasp the joy that comes from working with a group like this until you're involved. They don't want you to give them anything. ... They just want you to be around.

"For them to look up to me, with all the struggles they go through in life, is unbelievable. They're much more courageous than I am."

Handsor will be in the starting lineup tonight when the Blast faces his former team, the Philadelphia KiXX, in the Blast's fourth consecutive and last road game of the regular season.

The team will wrap up the season next weekend at home against the Cleveland Force and Milwaukee Wave. The Blast needs one victory to clinch no worse than a top-two playoff berth, which would mean a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the single-game elimination second round.

The Blast also is battling Milwaukee for the best overall record and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

"We have to play with more intensity, more intelligence than we did the last time we played there," said coach Tim Wittman. "If we do that, we'll play more like a team.

"Last season, the sum of our parts was greater than our individual talent. This year, there is more individual talent. If I can put the heart into this team that last year's team had, we'll go far."

If Wittman is looking for heart, he has only to look at Handsor. Though he has two championships - one with the National Professional Soccer League Cleveland Crunch in 1995-96 and one with the KiXX in 2001-02, when he earned playoff Most Valuable Player honors - Handsor said the work he has done with charities here, in Philadelphia and before that when he played in Toronto means much more.

"I have some pictures with these kids that I cherish more than any championship trophy or championship ring that I have," said Handsor, recalling one with an 11-year-old named Gia. "She wanted me to take her to the Variety Club camp prom, and I did. I have a picture of us with her in her prom dress sitting in her wheelchair.

"The Special Olympics kids are always smiling and having fun. Pro players don't realize how privileged we are. You see these kids and you feel blessed."

In each of Handsor's last two Special Olympics sessions, he has had 45 kids. He said he may have to recruit some of his teammates to help.

"I want to do more and see the impact we can have," he said. "I don't think enough of us do that. It's a way to get a reward inside your heart, not just in your pocket."

Handsor said his involvement began seven years ago, when he played in Toronto and became involved with the Variety Club, an organization like the Special Olympics that works with wheelchair athletes and individuals using prosthetics.

He continued his work with the group in Philadelphia and also worked with the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Kidney Foundation.

"I don't take my talent or success for granted," he said. "I know what I have can be gone in an instant. I know that, for some people, that would be overwhelming. But I look at these individuals who overcome their situations every day and I don't feel sorry for them. I feel privileged to be part of their lives."

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