When you hear the name Mia Hamm, the first thought that likely comes to mind is soccer. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and World Cup winner did indeed have a rewarding career — one that she worked hard for.

In an instant

What you may not know about the retired pro is that she has dedicated a big part of her life to raising awareness about bone marrow transplants. Finding out her brother Garrett — who was diagnosed with a rare blood disease called aplastic anemia — needed a transplant was shocking. And after losing him in 1997 due to complications, she felt a responsibility to speak up about the importance of bone marrow transplants and how they can save lives.

Hamm wasn’t sure where to begin. “My parents printed up some one-page flyers with my brother's story and his need for a bone marrow transplant. I took these flyers to every speech and event I attended in order to educate people on the importance of registering in the National Bone Marrow Registry,” she shares.

THE GOAL: Part of the foundation Hamm created to honor her brother involves an all-star soccer match that raises funds for transplant patients. Photo: Mike Stahlschmidt; Sideline Sports Photography, LLC

Creating a resource

In 1999, the Mia Hamm Foundation was born to honor her brother by raising funds, increasing awareness and supporting other families affected by bone marrow and cord blood transplants.

“‘We need donors to share their experiences to rid people of the myths that are out there about being a bone marrow donor.’”

The Foundation also sponsors “The Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra Celebrity Soccer Challenge” (originally called the “Garrett Game”) — an all-star exhibition soccer match to raise funding to support transplant patients. From the very first game back in 2001, when donors and recipients came together during halftime, Hamm knew her efforts were impacting many.

Her advice for families hoping to receive a transplant: “Never give up. There are really some amazing people in this world who are selfless in their acts of kindness. I was overwhelmed by how many people assisted me and my family in our fight to save my brother's life. We were inundated with prayers, love and support. In the toughest of times, it was these acts that picked us up and moved us to continue to work not only on Garrett's behalf but on the side of so many others facing similar circumstances.”

FAMILY TIES: Hamm knows the importance of every family affected by cancer sharing their story, which ensures proper visibility and dispells misinformation surrounding bone marrow donation. Photo: Courtesy of Mia Hamm

Amplifying donation’s impact

Hamm hopes that bone marrow donations will become as well known and common as blood donations. She emphasizes that continuing to share families’ stories is an important step in getting there. “For the recipients of bone marrow transplants, and for those waiting for one, it’s a life and death situation. We need donors to share their experiences to rid people of the myths that are out there about being a bone marrow donor,” she stresses.

“Education and connection, putting faces to the names of patients, will go a long way in increasing the numbers in the registry, which will, in turn, increase the number of survivors.” Because her brother Garrett was adopted, none of Hamm’s family members were a match. She says that motivated them even more to stay positive for him and in his fight.

“In our search for a match for him, we were also hoping that we could help be the answer to another family in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant,” says Hamm. But whether the donor is related to the recipient or not — Garrett’s donor ended up being his biological father — Hamm says the same thing about each and every one: “They are heroes.”