2016 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion Jake Olson is one of the 1 in 10 Americans affected by one of more than 7,000 rare diseases.
The native of southern California was born with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eyes. He lost his left eye when he was 10 months old and despite numerous procedures on his right eye, he lost his sight completely to this rare disease in 2009 at the age of 12.
A huge USC Trojans fan all his life, Olson watched as much USC football as possible before losing his sight. When former Trojans coach Pete Carroll learned of Olson’s story he invited him to practices, Carroll then went a step further and made Olson an honorary member of the team.
The loss of his sight never slowed Olson down as he continued to flourish on so many levels. During his final two years of high school, Olson was the varsity long snapper for the football team at Orange Lutheran. And in 2015, as a true freshman, he earned a spot on the roster as an invited walk on for the team he grew up loving, the USC Trojans.
Olson just completed his second season with the Trojans and is busy navigating his sophomore year in college. We decided to catch up with the student, college football player, author and motivational speaker.
Uplifting Athletes: Let’s start with school and your studies in this your sophomore year. Tell us about exactly what you are studying and some of your thoughts in terms of a career?
Olson: I am studying Business Administration and plan to get an emphasis in finance. I hope to eventually become an investment banker while continuing to do motivational speaking. I also am thinking about getting into the broadcasting field. At the end of the day, my main goal is to do something where I can continue to make a positive impact on society.
Uplifting Athletes: This was your second season as part of the USC Trojans football team. How was the 2016 season different than year No. 1 as a member of the Trojans?
Olson: Although we did face adversity in the beginning of this season, we continued to grow as a team under the steady hand of Coach Helton. Personally, I gained a much better understanding of what it took to succeed on the USC football team both physically and mentally. This year I was able to accomplish much more in practice. Overall, there was more stability.
Uplifting Athletes: You saw some action in the spring game last year. What was that experience like?
Olson: It was a surreal experience to take the field as a member of the team I grew up idolizing. I never believed it would happen, and I am so thankful to all the people who helped me reach that point. The support of Trojan fans blew me away. It was also a sign to me that if I continue to work hard in practice and in the classroom, I could see game action for the Trojans.
Uplifting Athletes: We have to ask about the Rose Bowl game against Penn State. You’ve experienced plenty as a life-long Trojans fan. What was it like to be a part of a game that special and dramatic while wearing the cardinal and gold and being on the field?
Olson: It was the most memorable experience of my life for sure. I finally feel like the Trojans are back on top, and I feel blessed to be a part of it. More than anything, it got me really excited for the years to come. Being part of a game like that is something I will remember for the rest of my life and tell my kids and grandkids about.
Uplifting Athletes: It is an honor to have you listed as one of our Rare Disease Champions. Your story has touched so many, but what do you see as the next chapter of that story?
Olson: The next step for me would be snapping in a USC game. That is my end goal. After college, I hope to find a way to continue to inspire people and use the platform I have already developed to help spread my message.