Each of the six finalists for the 2016 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Award will be featured here. In order to cast your online vote to help determine the 2016 Rare Disease Champion, you can visit our voting page. The winner will be announced February 18.
University: University of Southern California (USC)
Vitals: 6-4, 195-pound freshman long snapper
Quick Hits: Became a member of the football team he grew up loving, USC, in the fall. … Was diagnosed with retinoblastoma at birth and lost his left eye to the disease when he was 10 months old. Despite radiation, chemotherapy and procedures, had his right eye removed and lost his sight completely at age 12 in 2009. … An inspirational speaker and author, Olson has co-written two books about his rare disease journey and overcoming adversity. … Graduate of Orange Lutheran HS in California where he served as the varsity football long snapper as a junior and senior. His teammates would guide him into position over the ball. … Olson also played golf at Orange Lutheran and regularly shoots in the 80s. … Enrolled at USC on a Swim With Mike’s Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund. Because that scholarship is regarded as athletic aid, USC sought and received a waiver from the NCAA so that he did not count against the Trojans’ NCAA-mandated 85 scholarship roster limit. He uses a guide dog named Quebec. … Added as a reserve walk-on at USC in 2015 and dressed for the first time as a member of the USC team against Stanford.
INSIDE THE STORY
Even before he arrived at USC to start his college career, Olson had already done more to help others than most accomplish in a lifetime. His rare disease journey with retinoblastoma was personal, but he made sure it did not define who he is or slow him down. And he’s all about helping others, because that’s who Olson is.
His story is nationally known because of his relationship with former USC coach Pete Carroll. Prior to losing his eyesight completely, the Trojans made sure Olson was able to soak in as much USC Trojans football as he wanted.
Since Olson completely lost his sight in 2009 at the age of 12, he has continued to flourish on so many fronts. And he uses the platform he was given to help others individuals and their families. The second book he co-authored, Open Your Eyes, is a revealing way of thinking living and praying that have kept him and his family triumphant in the face of adversity.
Olson’s journey with football didn’t end in 2009, either. He will always be a huge USC fan. But prior to his junior year he wanted to play football. His high school coach said he would grant him the opportunity to earn his spot on the team, but it would not be a charity case. And that’s exactly the way Olson wanted it. After countless hours of work, he became a well-oiled long snapper for extra points and field goals.
His acceptance into USC was earned, too. His high school resume read like an admissions board dream. He carried a 4.3 GPA, played varsity football and golf, sang in the school choir, co-wrote two faith-based books about overcoming adversity and has been featured several times on national television. He is also an accomplished public speaker and, through his Out of Sight Faith foundation, raises money to put technology in the hands of the blind.
THE RARE JOURNEY
Ask Olson and he’ll tell you he’s fortunate to have been able to see with one until the age of 12. That’s just the lens he views life.
He’s never asked for anything extra because retinoblastoma took his sight. Olson was diagnosed with the rare disease at eight months old and shortly after that the cancer took his left eye before he was a year old.
For the next 11 years his vision was limited to his right eye, but more than a decade of being able to see was enough to last Olson a lifetime.
Despite many rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, the retinoblastoma continues to progress in his right eye to the point where it had to be removed in 2009.
WHAT THEY SAID
“Going through adversity or challenges in life, it really does make you stronger, life’s unfair, football’s unfair, things are unfair. But at the same time, it’s up to you how far you want to take yourself. It’s taught me not to give up. It’s taught me to keep fighting.” – Jake Olson