On April 19, 2024, I said goodbye to my #1 fan. I said goodbye to the person who always told me “I love watching you play.” To the person who believed in me no matter what, and always encouraged me to dream big, and to jump off the cliff and grow my wings on the way down. On April 19, my beautiful mom Kathleen O’Sullivan, known by all of us as Granny O, passed away. I am heartbroken.

My mom was the epitome of unconditional love. She was like a grandparent, always proud of me no matter what happened on the field, and never living vicariously through my achievements or failures. She never gave advice or said anything on the car ride home except “Are you hungry?” She always made sure that sport never defined who I was, yet always allowed it to be something I did. When I wanted to try a new sport, she figured out how we could make it happen. When I was getting frustrated at my old sport, she would say “I understand that you are frustrated. Let’s go get ice cream!”

These last few years have been very difficult for all of us as we have watched her slip away. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. Our mom was our rock, our beacon of unconditional love, and the person who encouraged all of us to follow our hearts and make a life out of what we are most passionate about. In my youth, that was a soccer player, but also a skier, a golfer, a fisherman, a wrestler, and the list goes on and on. I remember her taking my siblings and I skiing in Vermont, and sitting in the lodge for two days while we skied, just so we could experience something new. I remember her taking us night blue fishing in Montauk, NY, staying up all night while her kids and their friends fished while she watched proudly, rarely grabbing a rod. I remember her always being willing to pile us in her car, or later on lend her keys, so we could be off on a new adventure.

After college soccer, she encouraged me to pursue a life in the mountains skiing and hiking and climbing, and then encouraged me to take the leap when a professional soccer contract was offered. She told me to believe in myself when I was offered a college coaching job, and four years later told me to trust the universe and leave college coaching to live closer to the woman who became my wife and mother of my two children. She was there for me as I struggled to make ends meet pursuing what I loved the most, and pushing me to keep going when I wanted to quit. She was there for me in 2011 when I said I was going to quit full time coaching, and write a book called Changing the Game. And she was there for me in 2014, two weeks before my TED talk, saying as I practiced my speech on her “Thats a nice talk, but I don’t remember anything. What is the message you want everyone to get.” And out of that came my idea worth sharing: “I love watching you play.”

Granny O read the first draft of everything I wrote for years, and clicked “Like” on Facebook in the beginning when we had no followers. She came to my kids games whenever she was in town, and took them on long walks on the beach exploring nature when we visited her in NY. She babysat so their mom and I could steal away, and we would come home to all the neighborhood kids hanging at our house with Granny O. These last two years, as her memory faded and her ability to communicate disappeared, it was so difficult during the tough times to not be able to rely on her wisdom and compassion. And as we sat at her bedside in her final months, we were astounded by all who came by, sharing stories similar to ours, about how Granny O had been there for them always, and especially in their toughest moments.

If there is one story that has been resonating about my mom for me recently, it is a story that happened in October of 2023, the weekend we signed my mom up for hospice. It was a time we were still unsure whether she could follow along with a group conversation, and we always did our best to include her. My brother, sister, dad and I were talking about all the amazing countries we have gotten to visit through our work and play, inspired by our mom who lived in over 30 different countries and spoke five languages. My sister turned to my mom and asked “Hey mom, what’s the best place you have ever been.” We sat expectantly, wondering what exotic locale she would mention, if she even knew what we were talking about at all.

“Home,” she said. “Definitely home.”

I write this, with tears streaming down my face, because that is the enduring lesson my mom taught me. No mater where you go, or what you do, it’s always about the people you surround yourself with that matters most. It’s what we do here at Changing the Game Project, a movement that would not exist without the belief and encouragement of Granny O. We try to help parents, coaches, and sports organizations make their teams, clubs and schools feel like home. Feel safe and filled with unconditional love. Feel like a place where you can do hard things, fail, and be helped back to your feet and encouraged to try again.

So today, Mom, in the mountains of Central Oregon, I look at the glorious blue sky and snow covered peaks and remember what your father told me long ago: “The mountains bring you closer to God.” From now on they bring me one step closer to you too, Mom. Rest in peace

And if you have read this far, if anything on this blog or podcast or one of our books or talks has ever made a difference in your life, now you know where it all comes from. Thank Granny O. And please take a moment in your busy lives and say a prayer for her. She was beautiful.


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