VANCOUVER, BC – There’s been a lot made of Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s team chemistry this season. The players have talked about it, the coaches have talked about it, and it’s been readily apparent to fans, media, and other observers of the team.
So, what made it so special?
Carl Robinson, a true players’ coach, is probably at the top of the list along with the rest of his staff – though he’s quick to credit the players themselves.
But there’s another individual who has flown a little more under the radar. His name is Aidan Prem.
Aidan, 19, has been working with the club’s equipment staff since early in the season. He has dyspraxia, a lifelong disorder that can affect movement, coordination, judgment, processing, speech and other cognitive skills, and also falls under the autistic umbrella.
He lost his father in January.
Four weeks later, an opportunity came up with Whitecaps FC.
“It felt like a little gift from above,” Aidan’s mom, Dani, told whitecapsfc.com. “Seriously, I still keep pinching myself. I can’t believe it. It’s been such an amazing experience.”
For Aidan and the team.
The players speak glowingly about him.
Andy O’Brien, who said the team has probably gotten as much out of it as Aidan has, called him a “joy.” Jordan Harvey referred to him as a “delight.” Gershon Koffie said, “Everyone in the locker room loves him.”
It’s hard not to.
Aidan is always smiling and cracking jokes with the players. His personality is infectious.
He always comes to work with an “uplifting and positive attitude,” said Harvey.
“He makes the day bright for us,” added Koffie.
And in this industry, where the pressure is always on, that cannot be overstated.
“No matter what kind of day you’re having, when you come into training, you see a kid like that with that attitude and that mentality towards life, it puts things into perspective,” Russell Teibert told whitecapsfc.com. “It makes you think, why can’t you smile as well? Why can’t you be as positive and happy as he is? He’s something special in this locker room.”
Aidan attends every training session. He eats lunch with players and has his own handshake with Teibert. He can often be found in the locker room dancing with the Latin Americans.
“He has some signature celebration moves,” Harvey said. “Down the stretch, Rusty and I were going to bring them out had we scored … he’s just been a great addition to the locker room. As well as the team chemistry is, he makes it that much better.”
It’s not all fun and games though.
Aidan has his responsibilities, which he takes seriously.
“I always tell jokes but whenever I go to practice I concentrate,” said Aidan, who was also very involved with the athletics department at Carson Graham Secondary, his high school.
Aidan works closely with Ed Georgica, the club’s head equipment, logistic and facilities manager, and Andrew Lichtenfels, the assistant equipment manager.
“They’ve both been extremely patient,” Dani said.
And slowly but surely, they’ve given Aidan more responsibility. He’s now able to do the laundry and hang the kits perfectly, for example. He also helps out on the training pitch with things like handing out water bottles and collecting pinnies.
“He’s the drill sergeant,” Georgica told whitecapsfc.com. “He throws a yellow or red card when they’re not doing what I ask them to do.”
Georgica, who was a central figure in bringing Aidan into the fold, said that he suspects Aidan will be with the team “for a long time.” And that’s music to the ears of Aidan and his mother.
Aidan said it’s been a “really fun” year and he’s proud to be a part of this club.
“I told my friends that I work for the Whitecaps and they always get really, really excited and shocked,” Aidan told whitecapsfc.com. “A lot of them say, I want that job, I want that job!”
His mom, Dani, said it’s been “especially amazing” for her because it was always her late husband’s dream for Aidan to be taken on by a sports team.
Sports, he said, were the best way to connect Aidan with the rest of his peers.
And that’s something Dani has witnessed firsthand.
“Aidan would have been happy to sit in the corner during his life, but he had to play soccer, he had to play hockey, and it’s been such a gift,” Dani said. “It’s the community and his teams that have made him who he is and he’s just continuing to grow with the Whitecaps.”
“It’s still sort of surreal for me that he’s actually here,” she added. “That whole locker room, they’ve totally brought him in. The guys have just been phenomenal with him. He really feels like he’s part of it. He just loves it.”
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