AAA Start Your Journey: Unique circumstances brought soccer into the hearts of the Garzia family

Peter Garzia was never a soccer player. A former college football player, Garzia stayed away from soccer altogether until his son Rocco was born.

When Rocco was born 11 years ago, he was diagnosed with a combination of genetic syndromes, Prader-Willi and X-Y-Y, more commonly known as an extra male chromosome.

“When Rocco was born, his combination was unheard of,” said Garzia. “They didn’t have any record of a child having both Prader-Willi and an extra chromosome. Because this was new for them, they couldn’t predict how he was going to turn out as he got older.”

Most children who are diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome are often very short, obese and usually immobile. In an effort to counterattack those symptoms and give their son a normal life, Peter and his wife Jennifer signed him up to play soccer when he was 4.

“We wanted to get him active and involved,” Peter said. “When he first started, he was very timid but over time he grew more comfortable with his team. Now he asks me every week when soccer starts again.”

The team that Rocco now plays for is a part of the Lower Merion Soccer Club in the town of Lower Merion, Pa., where the Garzia family lives. The special needs program for the club was started in 1992 by Susan Reynolds, creating an opportunity for children with special needs ages 4-20 to play soccer in a group on their peers.

When Rocco started playing in 2008, Steve and Marlene Ross were the coaches until Peter Garzia took over as the full-time coach in 2012.

“There were always parent volunteers to who stayed and played with the kids,” Peter said. “After a couple years of volunteering, the former coach asked me if I had any interest in taking over as coach and I jumped at the chance.”

Though Peter only coaches the team in the fall, Rocco stays active and kicks the soccer ball around all the time. When he isn’t out playing soccer, Rocco participates in Special Olympics basketball and is a member of the Boy Scouts of America. Rocco also loves to watch the WWE, construction shows, playing on his iPad and going to the beach.

And while Rocco’s interests are diversified, make no mistake, his heart belongs to soccer. His love for the sport has even lead to his entire family attending a Union game here at PPL Park.

“We’ve only been to one game but it was a lot of fun,” Peter said. “We’ve brought the whole family and really had an amazing experience. There was a great atmosphere at the game and it was definitely a repeatable experience.”

Since it is the summer months, Rocco is off from both school and soccer but still hangs out with some of the kids from the team. According to his father, part of the reason Rocco loves soccer is because he enjoys having a pack of kids that are just like him.

“Most of the kids are in a lot of the same schools so he gets to be active and be himself with them,” Peter said. “He loves it so much, sometimes I wish I could make them play 30 times a year.”

This story is part of AAA’s “Start Your Journey” campaign, an effort – in partnership with the Union – to help celebrate families’ journeys in support of their young athletes…the long road trips, all-weekend tournaments, and the special bonds that are formed from the extensive time on the road.  Each month, the Philadelphia Union and AAA will select an individual within its soccer network to develop a feature story on their path to success in association with the game of soccer. Additionally, fans are encouraged to share their own stories via social media using #ShareYourJourney.

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