Growing up as children, the majority of us spent hours lost in imagination, filled with hopes and dreams of becoming professional athletes. Whether it was scoring the game winning goal or capturing championships, becoming a professional athlete seemed like a life destined for glamour, success, and happiness. But while the life of Vancouver Whitecaps FC defender Pete Vagenas may seem like a dream filled with many soccer triumphs, the personal life of Vagenas has had many challenges.
After an unprecedented college career at UCLA where Vagenas won the 1997 NCAA Men's Division I Soccer Championship and captured team MVP honours, Vagenas was drafted in the 2000 MLS SuperDraft by his home-state team, LA Galaxy. During his eight-year tenure with 'Los Galacticos', Vagenas won two MLS Cup titles (2005, 2007). During his time in LA, he made 183 appearances and registered 14 goals. Vagenas also captured a CONCACAF Champions' Cup title (2000), two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles (2001, 2005), and a Major League Soccer Supporters' Shield (2002). After departing to Seattle Sounders FC in 2009, Vagenas continued his success, as he claimed a third Lamar Hunt US Open Cup (2009). It appeared as though Vagenas was living the dream.
However, during the 2010 MLS campaign, the dream turned into a nightmare. "As people know about a year ago, we found a lump in my wife's throat", notes Vagenas. "They tested it, but the results came back inconclusive. The doctors said that they would have to operate, but couldn't as my wife was pregnant at the time. The doctors gave us pretty good odds that it was nothing, but after we had our daughter, they performed the test and it came back cancerous."
Vagenas' life quickly turned into two full-time jobs - trying to help his wife fight thyroid cancer, while also trying to maintain his form to continue his soccer career. "I didn't know what I was going to do soccer-wise. Obviously, we didn't expect to hear those results, but I knew I needed to stay close because that's where the doctors were. Thankfully, LA Galaxy were there with open arms and allowed me to train and stay fit and do the day-to-day things I needed to maintain fitness."
LA Galaxy's kindness towards their ex-defender paid off dividends for the 33-year American international. Vagenas joined Whitecaps FC in 2011, while his wife continued to recover. "My wife still has doctors' appointments, so I have been back and forth quite a bit. Vancouver has been patient and lenient while I deal with my family, but it seems to be coming towards an end now and hopefully by the end of this month, my family will be moving to Vancouver".
Vagenas has made countless trips back and forth to California to help care for his family throughout the 2011 campaign. "In terms of soccer and scheduling, you don't always know when your next day off will be, so booking flights is always a problem. The other day, I arrived in Vancouver at 1 a.m. PT and eight hours later, we had a beep test at practice, so the flying isn't always fun. But it's my family and I understand now more than ever that there are more important things in life then soccer".
But while things appear to be returning to normal for Vagenas and his family, there are still some unavoidable challenges that have and will continue to present themselves along the way. For example, during the July 20 battle against San Jose Earthquakes, Vagenas received an elbow directly to his mouth, causing broken bones and loosened teeth. "I've got a mouth guard. I got root cancel, broken bones, and stiches. We had four days off recently that coincided with my son's birthday and I was excited to go home and spend time with him, but I ended up spending two days sitting in a dentist's chair. I was in Disneyland with my son,< celebrating his birthday with an ice pack on my mouth and taking Percocet with a Mickey Mouse hat on."
So while Pete has had his share of glory winning trophies, awards, and championships, it is his recent experiences with his family that have put things in perspective. He knows that no athletic achievement can equal having a happy and healthy family.