Dan Gross/The Gazette
Andrew Christianson, 14, celebrates after being "drafted" by Montgomery College's soccer team.
Fourteen-year-old Andrew Christianson may not have graduated from high school — much less middle school — yet, but he is already a college athlete.
On Friday, in front of his family, friends, teammates and fans, the Olney-resident signed a National Letter of Intent with the Montgomery College men's soccer program. While the eighth-grade student at Rose Parks Middle School is an official member — he attends the Raptors' practices, games and even has his own set of purple, black, white and silver jerseys — of the junior college program, Christianson will have to wait a little less than five years to actually play in a collegiate contest.
“This is pretty cool,” Christianson, an avid soccer player and fanatic, said with a grin on his face. “Everyone has been so nice.”
Christianson, who appears to be mature for his age, isn't a typical 14-year-old boy.
Two years ago, in September 2011, Christianson was diagnosed with Pre-B Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Following a year of aggressive chemotherapy treatment and hospital stays at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he entered a maintenance phase (oral chemotherapy doses and steroids) last October and is improving.
As a side effect of the medication, Christianson developed osteonecrosis, a disease caused by reduced blood flow to bones in the joints, in his knee and liver damage. Once he is cancer-free, he is expected make a full recovery. Christianson has not been admitted to the hospital since April 2012 and has since been able to return to the soccer field.
“He just wasn't himself,” said his mother, Mardith Christianson. “Andrew had never been sick.
“It is one of the most traumatic things you can go through as a mother and parent. It's been tough, but he's been so positive about it and I don't think I could be as calm if he didn't handle it as well as he has.”
Added Andrew: “I just wasn't feeling good — mainly just being tired — before [getting diagnosed]. The doctors did tests for other things before they figured it out.”
Christianson, who says his favorite professional team is D.C. United, began playing the sport in early elementary school. He then joined his first organized team with Montgomery Soccer, Inc. (MSI) and after sitting out most of the past two seasons to fight leukemia, he currently plays with the Olney Boys' and Girls' Club.
“I never really got depressed or sad about being sick. It was a new challenge to overcome and something I didn't really worry about, but it was tough not playing,” Christianson said. “Friends would ask to hang out and I just didn't feel like it.”
During Friday's ceremony, Christianson, who celebrated his birthday on Oct. 13, ran through a tunnel of players as he was introduced prior to the Raptors' game against Allegany. He was then “drafted” by the Raptors, posed for pictures with the team and received a jersey with his lucky number 13 on it.
“This is great,” Montgomery College coach Pedro Braz said. “We've all really become connected with Andrew. He's a great kid.”
Christianson, who was joined at the event by his mother, father Mark and younger sister Caroline, was introduced to Braz and the rest of the Montgomery College program through Team IMPACT, a non-profit organization that is chartered to improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening illnesses. The Christiansons became aware of Team IMPACT after attending Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children and their families with life-threatening diseases, in Maine last summer.
“This means a lot,” Mardith said. “It really does. We've received so much support from Montgomery College, organizations and our family and friends.”
Christianson, who plays forward, hopes to officially play collegiate soccer some day, but for now, he is focused on enjoying his time with OBGC and improving enough to make Rosa Parks' team in the spring and Sherwood's junior varsity program next fall.
“I like getting the ball and scoring,” he said.
Note: The Raptors finished the regular season 19-1 and are expected to participate in the Region XX tournament, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday. The NJCAA Division III national tournament is set for Nov. 14-17.