A love of soccer runs in the family of Coast Guard helicopter pilot Capt. Thomas Cooper, who played semi-professionally in the Los Angeles area with the South Bay All-stars from 2012 to 2014. After growing up playing the game for fun with his twin brother, coached by their dad, Cooper loved that the All-stars included players from many different countries. “It’s such an international sport, and a great way to meet new people as we transfer from place to place. It’s a great source of national pride,” said Cooper, adding that he and others like to support the U.S. teams for many of the same reasons they serve in, or support the military — because of their love of country.
Cooper, a U.S. Northern Command deputy director who has served for 23 years, was inducted into the Hall of Heroes at his alma mater, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, for rescuing 146 victims during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. He keeps soccer in his life by playing pick-up games; watching and attending games with his family at both the professional and national levels; following the USMNT, USWNT and the World Cup; and kicking the ball around with his older daughter, Mary Kate.
“I grew up playing soccer. It was really my first love,” said Mary Kate, who is a below-the-knee amputee, and in fact practically learned to walk on a soccer field at about 18 months old as she adapted to her prosthetic leg. She credits soccer with teaching her coordination, and many life skills and lessons. Mary Kate, who received in April 2017 one of Operation Homefront’s seven Military Child of the Year awards, has never let her prosthetic slow her down, playing recreational soccer against able-bodied kids from 2004 through 2014. She started playing when the family lived in New Orleans, continued playing in Waldorf, Md., and then in Los Angeles with the American Youth Soccer Organization, and her highly competitive Palos Verdes Junior High School team.
In 2014, Mary Kate switched sports to swimming and track and field, because soccer is not a Paralympic sport for women with limb deficiency. U.S. Paralympics, a U.S. Olympic Committee division, named Mary Kate in 2015 a High School All-American in discus and long jump. She was one of the few athletes to qualify in 2016 for U.S. Paralympic Trials in more than one sport, and finished 2016 ranked 36th in the world for swimming.