For the past ten years, former VNA Homecare patient Andrew (Drew) Cunningham, has dreamed of representing his country in the power soccer World Cup. This past July, his dream came true. At just 18, the Syracuse native and recent Westhill High graduate was the youngest of 12 men and women chosen to play for Team USA at the 2017 Fédération Internationale de Powerchair Football Association (FIPFA) World Cup in Kissimmee, Florida.
Cunningham’s road to the World Cup was a long one, beginning just over 13 years ago. It was then that his father, Tom Cunningham, discovered power soccer, the world’s fastest growing sport for power wheelchair users. Combining the skill of the athlete with the speed and power of his or her wheelchair, power soccer offers a fun, competitive and accessible opportunity for disabled athletes to participate in the world’s most popular sport. Competing on an indoor basketball court in wheelchairs specifically designed for the game, players dribble and spin-kick a 13” soccer ball in an exciting and fast game to pass, shoot and score goals against the opposing team.
While highly competitive, the sport offered a sense of camaraderie and inclusion that appealed to the then five-year-old Cunningham, who was born with multicore myopathy, a genetic disorder characterized by progressive weakness and degeneration of the skeletal muscles that control movement. He was instantly hooked, and shortly thereafter helped form CNY United, one of nearly 60 power soccer clubs incorporated under the United States Power Soccer Association (USPSA). Over the next several years, Cunningham and his CNY United teammates honed their skills during weekly practices and played in competitions across the country, ultimately bringing home the 2015 USPSA Premier Cup championship.
In October 2014, Cunningham was one of 20 applicants invited to participate in the USPSA’s national tryouts in Indianapolis, IN. After three days of intense evaluation and grueling drills, he was chosen as one of the 12 players who would represent the USA at the 2017 FIPFA World Cup, an experience Cunningham says was both exhilarating and surreal.
“To have all my hard work pay off in such a huge way was awesome,” he said. “It didn’t feel real.”
Over the next two plus years, Cunningham and his teammates participated in quarterly training camps designed to build team spirit, strengthen their skills, and prepare them for the competition they would face in Florida, where teams from 10 countries across the world would compete for the sport’s highest honor.
As two-time World Cup champions (2007 and 2011), Team USA entered the competition on July 5 as a favorite and didn’t disappoint, battling through the group phase with victories over Denmark, Uruguay, Japan, and Argentina and the knockout phase with victories over Ireland and England to advance to the final. Unfortunately, their dreams of a third consecutive championship came to an end when they fell to France and accepted the silver medal. Despite the defeat, Cunningham wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
“Playing for Team USA meant the world to me,” Cunningham notes. “I got to represent my country at the highest level and play with the world's best players. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Cunningham plans to attend Onondaga Community College this fall. He’ll continue playing power soccer with CNY United at the national level and looks forward to trying out for the 2021 World Cup team. And while he no longer requires services from VNA Homecare, Cunningham is a patient those who cared for him won’t soon forget.
“VNA Homecare is truly honored to have cared for such an exceptional young man,” notes President and CEO Kate Rolf. “His story is an inspiration to us all, and we look forward to what promises to be a very bright future for Mr. Cunningham.”