Gateway: Sports

Abused, abandoned, broken, now he has cancer. Nothing can stop this Gig Harbor soccer coach

Harbor Soccer Club coach Machael David was recently diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer.
Harbor Soccer Club coach Machael David was recently diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer. Courtesy

When Machael David was a young boy growing up in Nigeria, he witnessed his father beating his mother every day.

It prompted him to ask: What does it mean to be a man?

He couldn’t ask his father, who beat David’s mother simply because she was not Muslim. He tried to ask his youth soccer coach, who took advantage of his vulnerability and molested him.

Broken and searching for answers, he turned to a friend.

“At the age of 14, most kids in America are going to Disneyland,” David said. “I went to the street. My friend told me, ‘Let me show you what a man does.’”

At 14, David lost his virginity to a prostitute, he said.

“In that place, I destroyed my childhood,” he said. “It broke my mom’s heart when she found out. It still haunts me to this day.”

But David always had special talent on the soccer field. He was noticed by scouts at a young age, and as a teenager, was offered a trial at a lower-division club in Italy. He accepted an offer from a so-called “agent,” along with nine other Nigerian boys.

The agent ended up ditching the group of boys in Milan, having successfully exploited their ambition and taken their money.

David, with no home and no gig, slept in parks and train stations for about a year. Then he met fellow Nigerian Obafemi Martins (who later played for the Seattle Sounders from 2013 to 2015), who took him under his wing, along with several other Nigerian boys living in Martins’ house in Italy.

“I instantly became his favorite,” David said.

But David always dreamed of coming to America. He wanted to learn English. In 2005, he left his comfortable house in Italy, with Martins, to leave for America.

“I wanted a better life,” David said.

COMING TO AMERICA

He attempted to enter the United States with a one-way ticket and a fake passport, only speaking rudimentary English. Unsurprisingly, he was accosted by an immigration officer at the airport. David begged to not be sent back to Africa.

“The possibility of going back to Africa and living in poverty was so scary to me,” David said.

He was placed in a group home in New York and was eventually granted asylum. A host family from Fox Island volunteered to foster David. He attended Lincoln High School in Tacoma in his first year here. He felt stalled there.

“I didn’t come to America for soccer,” David said. “I wanted to learn English. I wasn’t really learning at Lincoln. There was so much chaos and fighting there. The life that I lived back in Africa, it seemed like I found it again.”

So David told his host family he wanted to attend Gig Harbor High School. That was an entirely different challenge.

“It was a huge cultural shock for me,” said David, who attended GHHS his junior and senior years. “I was kind of isolated. There were only about 10 black kids in my class. It was hard to make friends.”

I didn’t come to America for soccer. I wanted to learn English. I wasn’t really learning at Lincoln. There was so much chaos and fighting there. The life that I lived back in Africa, it seemed like I found it again.

Machael David, Harbor Soccer coach

He had no plans to play soccer. But while he was playing for fun on the practice field, those around him quickly noticed his skill. So he played for the Tides. He started receiving big-time recruiting exposure.

But a lot of the schools were scared off by his lack of academic background in the United States.

“I spoke to my counselor,” David said. “He told me if I was willing to put the work in, come to class in the summer, go home late at night, that they could help me get the grades to go to college.”

So David did. And he earned a full-ride scholarship to UC Santa Barbara — the only school that gave him a chance — where he was a star his first two seasons. Had he left after his sophomore season, many believe he would have been a top-five pick in the Major League Soccer Draft.

But his coach asked him to stay.

“They told me, ‘Everybody gave up on you, but we didn’t. Can you give us one more year?’” David said.

So he did. Then he broke his leg his junior year. Then again, he broke his leg his senior year.

He also kept bleeding from his nose, and couldn’t figure out why. One day at college, David was riding his bike when he was hit by a car. He was rushed to the hospital. The doctors performed some tests while he was there, but they couldn’t figure out why his nose kept bleeding.

He was eventually drafted late by the Colorado Rapids, having developed a reputation as an injury-prone player. He floated around for a while, eventually making his way back to Seattle to play for the Sounders U23 squad. But he kept getting hurt.

machael-david-with-scarf-cr
Machael David played briefly for the Sounders U23 before constant injuries cut his professional career short. MACHAEL DAVID Courtesy

“I was battling the same injury over and over,” he said. “I bruised and got injured really easily. It takes me a long time to recover. Every time I worked hard, I got another injury.”

He didn’t realize at the time that his injuries kept coming because he had Polycythemia vera, a rare type of blood cancer in the bone.

A RETURN TO GIG HARBOR

With his professional soccer career fizzling out, David returned to Gig Harbor in the spring of 2017 to coach kids with Harbor Soccer Club.

“He wanted to give back to the community that gave him so much,” said Harbor Soccer Club general manager Jason Jarrett.

It was a perfect fit for us. He has an infectious personality, unbelievable energy. He’s vivacious and has a big smile every time you see him. All the kids love him. We’re incredibly blessed to have him as a coach.

Jason Jarrett, Harbor Soccer Club general manager

It was a perfect fit. David was tasked with coaching the boys ’03 team (high school freshmen), the boys ’04 team (eight graders) and the boys ’07 team (10-year-old boys). For a while, everything was going swimmingly.

“It was a perfect fit for us,” Jarrett said. “He has an infectious personality, unbelievable energy. He’s vivacious and has a big smile every time you see him. All the kids love him. We’re incredibly blessed to have him as a coach.”

But something wasn’t right. David’s eyes were constantly bloodshot red — to the point where people on the street would ask him for weed. He would clutch his chest every practice.

He collapsed during one practice.

“I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t do anything,” David said.

A nurse associated with the team begged him to get checked out. So he did.

A BATTLE WITH CANCER

He was diagnosed with Polycythemia vera, a slow-growing blood cancer in which his bone marrow makes too many red blood cells. Those excess cells thicken the blood, slowing its flow. This can cause complications, such as blood clots, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

“The doctor told me that if I hadn’t come in, I would have had a major stroke that would have killed me,” David said.

There’s currently no cure for the cancer, although David said his doctor is optimistic about a new type of medicine that’s currently being researched.

For now, David is having 500 milliliters of blood removed twice per week.

“It’s something I might have to do for the rest of my life,” David said.

I hope I don’t get the bad news. I’m feeling the emotion. It’s weighing on me a little bit. But I’m trying to stay positive and bring hope to people. It hasn’t gotten me freaking out yet. I’m still smiling.

Machael David

David recently went in to MultiCare Gig Harbor for a biopsy test, to see if there’s a second mutation. If there is, it means he likely has leukemia. He will find out his biopsy result sometime this week.

“I hope I don’t get the bad news,” he said. “I’m feeling the emotion. It’s weighing on me a little bit. But I’m trying to stay positive and bring hope to people. It hasn’t gotten me freaking out yet.

“I’m still smiling.”

And that is perhaps David’s most incredible quality: In the face of all the terrible, shocking things his life has thrown his way, he’s always kept a smile on his face. He’s always kept fighting. He has never given up.

LIVING WITH A PURPOSE

David recently published a book titled “Every Mother’s Nightmare.” It’s the true story of his life, from growing up in Africa, to his life in Italy and the United States.

When David recently went in for a blood test, he feared he might have HIV, contracted from a lifelong struggle with sex addiction and a warped view of what it meant to be a man.

The tests came back negative.

“Then I had a vision,” David said. “The true meaning of my life is to inspire children all over the world. My book — when a mom reads it, she would call her son right now. It’s a story to truly bring a family a family together. It’s about the importance of relationships and the importance of a home where kids can communicate with their parents. I want every mom and dad to have a relationship with their kid.”

David is also starting a foundation called Creating Angels of the World.

He has recently been speaking at different high schools and events.

“Everything I do is free,” David said. “I want to give my life for free. I speak for free.”

He isn’t asking for money for his medical bills. Just a chance to share his story.

“One way people can help is just by inviting me to come speak to kids, speak to families,” David said. “I want to share hope with people.”

Those interested in buying David’s book can purchase it on Amazon or by contacting David directly on Facebook. He will send a copy of the book with a handwritten note for no additional charge.

Interested in following David’s progress with his cancer treatments? Follow his blog: machaeldavid.wordpress.com.

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