(L to R): Andres Neri, Ana Neri, Deanna Neri
Andres Uriel Neri is no stranger to adversity. The ten-year-old Filipino immigrant, who came to Canada on December 10, 2015, with his mother, Ana, was born with multiple congenital anomalies that have confined him to a power wheelchair.
But, the stress and uncertainty that comes with immigrating to a new country have failed to dampen Andres’ spirits. Andres is a happy, smiling kid who loves to sing, dance, play video games and work the piano. But most of all, he loves soccer.
“When he first asked if he could join soccer, we were all very hesitant,” says his aunt, Deanna Neri. “Like, ‘oh, maybe you could try some other indoor games, like chess,’ and he said ‘I’m already good at chess, I want to try something new. I want to be in the field with my friends.’”
“Everything that we tell him is dangerous for him, he just says ‘I just want to have a try, you just have to support me.’”
“I want to be a sports player,” Andres adds assertively. “I wanted to join soccer so that I could get more exercise and have more fun outdoors.”
Andres told his mom about Free Footie at his school and so Ana called the teacher to see if Andres could play. The teacher called an Adaptive Physical Education Consultant and then, as Ana says, “it all started from there.”
They attached a basket to his powerchair, a setup similar to the one used in the sport of power soccer. The wheelchair/basket combination allows him to push the ball up and down the field, but most importantly it allows him to be with his friends and be part of a community.
“It means a lot because I know Andres really wanted it,” says Ana.
Free Footie Executive Director Tim Adams says he is not only proud Andres for having the courage to say he wanted to play, but his teachers and coaches who worked so hard to make it happen.
“I saw the first photos of Andres on the field with all his friends and that huge smile of his and I just melted. This is what it’s all about. Creating a place where we can all play together, make friends, build a community and feel a little proud of what we did out there.”
Free Footie will be working with Andres and Ana on plans for next year. While Andres loves the setup, he has attached to his chair now, they are looking at ways to upgrade him as well as connecting him to other organizations who can help keep his love of play going.
Ana says she’s on board.
“Whatever that makes him happy, especially if it’s something that he’s enjoying, as long as it’s gonna be safe, I’m gonna be very supportive of him.”