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During the final game of this summer's Gold Cup tournament between the U.S. soccer team and archrival Mexico, American goalkeeper Tim Howard's performance was noteworthy for two reasons. First, close-up shots of Howard when the ball was on the Mexican side of the field showed him blinking, twitching, and smacking his lips—symptoms of the Tourette's syndrome (TS) he lives with. Second, with minutes left in the game and the U.S. clinging to a one-goal lead, it was Howard who made a magnificent, leaping save to deflect a Mexican volley that seemed destined to tie the score. When the U.S. held on to win, it was the second image that lasted.
Tourette's syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes involuntary motor or verbal tics. Only about 15 percent of people with TS experience the coprolalia (use of obscenities) that many people think define the syndrome.
Although Howard was diagnosed with TS at age 9, he has not let it slow him down. “I can embrace TS,” he says, “I can meet it head on. I deal with it, I live with it, I try to excel with it, but I don't suffer from it.”
Howard parlayed his goalkeeping success for the NY/NJ Metrostars of Major League Soccer into a tryout with one of England's most fabled franchises, Manchester United. He won both the starting job and the 2003–2004 Goalkeeper of the Year award in the English Premier League. Today he stars for English club Everton and is the backbone of the U.S. national team.
Not wanting to dull the phenomenal reflexes that earn him a living, Howard has never taken medication for his tics. Many people with TS can control the involuntary tics enough to function normally without drugs. Some are helped by psychotherapy.
“It's your willpower versus what your mind is telling your body to do,” Howard says. While suppressing his tics through mental fortitude does not eliminate Howard's symptoms, it does delay them long enough to highlight his skills as an athlete.
Ask the Mexican national soccer team. In discussing their June defeat, the Mexicans made no mention of Tourette's. Ruefully, they did mention the diving save he made to keep them from victory.
Which is just how Howard would want it.
Do you have a secret talent for drawing, painting, or graphic design? Send us your artwork about living with a neurological condition. One submission will be published in the Nov/Dec issue of Neurology Now and the artist will receive $100. People with epilepsy can also submit art to the Expressions of Courage contest, co-sponsored by the Epilepsy Foundation and Ortho-McNeil (expressionsofcourage.com ).