PORTLAND, Ore. – Maryn and Cora Chapman's Monday at Providence Park started with a warm up alongside United States and Brazilian internationals Tobin Heath and Andressinha and ended in the middle of a circle of Thorns FC professional players, leading a post-practice cheer for some of the most famous players in women's soccer.
Looming above them was one of the best players in the game's history (Christine Sinclair), a series of U.S. internationals (Heath, Lindsey Horan, Emily Sonnett, Meghan Klingenberg), some key members of Australia's national team (Hayley Raso, Ellie Carpenter) and the leading scorer in Switzerland's soccer history (Ana Crnogorčević). It's not the place you'd normally find a seven- and 10-year-old, but on this occasion, Maryn had become the day's biggest star.
Three months ago, Maryn was in a pediatric intensive care unit, having been flown from her home in Salem, Oregon, to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland as a brain hemorrhage threatened her life. The resulting surgeries discovered a tumor as the hemorrhage's cause, with Maryn eventually diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. The illness' stage IV grade is the cancer's most malignant form.
Six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy have followed, with Maryn soon to depart for New York to undergo her next stage of treatment. Her full treatment timeline, for now, extends over the next year, with only these weeks, around her June 20th birthday, providing a reprieve from a trying course.
Few of those trials are evident during Thorns practice, though. If anything, the red bandana Maryn adorns looks like a fashion choice. You tell yourself that nobody as active, as happy as her could possibly be ill. The reminders of her struggle become reasons for pause, then inspiration.
With each strike of the disproportionate, size five balls strewn around the Thorns' field, you see the time put in by somebody who, according to her aunt, has played soccer since she can walk. The balls rise up to the midpoint of her shin, but her right foot powers each one far into goal from the penalty spot. Cora, too, is strong on the ball, joining her sister in repeatedly foiling Heath and Klingenberg's attempts to keep shots out of Providence Park's northern goal.
It took the Thorns a while to coax their guests onto the field. As practice had gone on, Maryn had grown shy, seemingly overwhelmed when, after the session, most of the first team came to the sidelines for pictures and autographs. But soon, at the behest of Heath, Klingenberg and Crnogorčević, Maryn was on her feet, surprising Katherine Reynolds with the pace of a pass and nearly nutmegging Emily Menges.
It takes 20 minutes before the festivities are done. For half the team, practice has been over for some time, but nobody really wants to leave the field. This is the beginning two days the Chapmans will spend around the Thorns, but for Portland's players, this could prove the highlight of their week. Two games in six days lie ahead, but with Maryn's presence comes a reminder of how their play matters beyond the NWSL.
That context will continue on Wednesday during Portland's match against Sky Blue FC, when the Chapmans are joined at Providence Park by a number of Maryn's friends for a belated birthday party. Warmups from the field, party in the Widmer Brothers Southern Front, and "Happy Birthday" sung by the Rose City Riveters will round out her experience, one which could provide some light in the more arduous days to come.
For two days, though, Maryn Chapman has provided the light around the Thorns, providing not only perspective on a game that defines the players' club but an example of courage that transcends any field, and any sport. And while the Chapmans may remember their VIP experience at Providence Park, the players and fans will undoubtedly remember everything that, for two days, Maryn brought to the Thorns.