Thursday, March 4, 2021

Family ties help soccer player overcome tragedy

Cameron Jolley stole the ball and lofted a pass down the pitch with almost no time left on the clock. He fought harder this time, knowing he was not just representing himself; he was also representing his family.

He caught a glimpse of the white tape around his wrist that covered a bracelet he had made from his youngest sister’s soccer jersey — the jersey she wore during her last soccer season before unexpectedly passing away.

In the summer of 2016, Jolley’s family changed overnight. Jolley and his younger brother Aaron were attending their first day of BYU soccer camp when the news came that their youngest sister, Hannah, was in the hospital.

A few days prior, Hannah started showing symptoms typical of the flu, but her condition quickly worsened. Doctors at Utah Valley Hospital quickly diagnosed her with a bacterial infection. She was then flown to Primary Children’s Hospital, where doctors determined that Hannah had Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, a disease that destroys red blood cells.

When Cameron’s parents realized that Hannah was not going to survive the illness, his family gathered together to say their final goodbyes. They said a prayer together before 8-year-old Hannah was taken off life support and passed away in her mother’s arms.

Cameron recalled being overwhelmed with emotions on his way home from the hospital.

“I remember getting home around 3 a.m. not knowing what to do, but what I did know was that I wanted to continue to play soccer and get my mind off things,” Cameron said. He woke up three hours later at 6 a.m. and went straight back to the BYU soccer camp.

 “When your life is suddenly turned upside-down, I guess playing soccer was the one normal thing that they had to hang on to,” said Cameron’s mom, Melissa Jolley.

Being able to play soccer helped Cameron and his entire family cope with losing Hannah. They found ways, big and small, to keep her close. One of the ways was to turn little pieces of Hannah’s purple soccer jersey into bracelets to wear in her honor. Jolley wore his bracelet every single day and would cover it up with white tape so that he could wear it during his games.

When Jolley got called to serve a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in South Africa, he moved the bracelet from his wrist to his ankle and wore it every single day of his mission. He still wears the white tape on his wrist for games in memory of Hannah.

“I remember her energy and her passion that she had for soccer and I want to replicate that every time I step on the field,” Jolley said. “I want to remember how hard she played no matter if they were losing or winning. That is what she exemplified.”

Cameron’s family-inspired resiliency and determination have helped him to excel as a center back on one of the country’s top men’s soccer programs. 

“Cameron has a deep passion for the sport that allows him to push past most boundaries that hold others back,” BYU men’s soccer head coach Brandon Gilliam said, “He plays fearless and would always give everything to defend with his life. He’s a quality attacking player but a defensive player by heart.”

Gilliam said that while nothing in life can ever fill the gap or prepare someone for such a moment, he has seen soccer help Cameron find meaning and purpose. For the Jolley family, soccer has been as constant as the family’s faith. Not only does playing the sport itself give Cameron strength, but the environment it provides has also helped immensely. He describes it as a home away from home.

“There is a really good team culture. It’s a brotherhood,” Jolley said. “Everyone gets along with each other. We are competitive, but we don’t let it get in the way. We are brothers on and off the field. We care about each other.”

Jolley and his teammates also care about winning, and the Cougars win at a high level. Yet, the victories alone do not define Cameron or his contributions.

“Cameron and his family are special people,” Gilliam said. “They represent all that we are at BYU Soccer.”

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