Azkal Omphroy vows not to let disease ruin his football dreams
MANILA, Philippines - In a fun-loving video posted on YouTube, an animated Demitrius Omphroy sits right in the center of the screen, surrounded by his Azkals teammates.
He lipsynchs animatedly to a Bruno Mars song looking vibrant, youthful and confident.
But he wasn't always that way.
The 23-year-old Filipino-Panamanian may look healthy on the outside but inside, the Global FC defender and one of the new faces in the Philippine Azkals’ roster has been battling multiple sclerosis (MS) for six years now.
And when he first found out, he said the news was devastating.
“I was 17 when I was first diagnosed of the first type of MS. I was scared and really nervous when I found out,” said Omphroy, who is one of the 22 players representing the Philippines in the 2012 ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.
At that point, Omphroy had moved from California to Portugal, where he attended a football academy and was set to play professionally.
“I was in Portugal and they told me I was going to go blind. For a person of my age, when someone comes up to you and says that you have this disease you’ll get really nervous,” said Omphroy.
'My life is over'
The young player was forced to return to the United States where he lived, and the vision problems went away. Instead of Portugal, he managed to snag a college scholarship at the University of California, Berkeley where he played 35 of 70 matches.
But things took a turn for the worse.
At 20, Omphroy was officially diagnosed with MS, a disease that affects the brain and central nervous system and is difficult to diagnose.
The knowledge of having the disease affected Omphroy's life and spirit.
“I was really scared. I was really depressed for seven months. I was recovering from being temporarily blind and when you search the internet you see people on wheelchairs and it makes you think: ‘My life is over,’” he said.
Omphroy's foot also went numb, as a result of the disease.
“I didn’t want to touch a soccer ball. I was so scared of what was going to happen."
Deciding to fight
Now 23, Omphroy has since changed his attitude.
Having survived 3 years without worrying too much about MS, Omphroy shared that he decided to take the disease head on, a move that helped him understand MS -- and consequently, confront it.
“I went into treatment and became proactive in battling this disease. It was a very smart decision to get into treatment. I take care of my body and eat the right food. That’s the best thing I could do to battle this disease,” said Omphroy.
The trigger which helped Omphroy change his life was a book his sister gave him on how a woman with MS cured herself by changing her diet.
Since then, he has adapted changes to his own lifestyle in an effort to manage it.
“I finally realized I can fight this disease and I had no idea that was possible. I thought I was doing everything that I could with my injections but I wasn’t. I have to take care of my body and eat the right things. It was at that point when I realized that I have to take control of my life.”
While tedious, his heightened consciousness regarding his health is crucial for Omphroy to stay in top form -- a necessity if he is to stay well not just on the field, but outside of it as well.
Aside from watching his diet, Omphroy said he drinks a lot of water to stay hydrated since warm weather triggers MS, and tries to get as much sleep as he can -- a challenge especially when the team travels a lot.
"Pretty much do everything I can to keep myself healthy,” he said.
Because of the unpredictability of the disease, Omphroy said he takes life one day at a time, and has accepted the fact that MS is now a part of his every day life.
He has since decided that while it changed his plans in the past, like playing professionally in Europe, it would not prevent him from playing football.
"I think what I can do right now and take advantage of every opportunity that I have,” said Omphroy.
“One thing that I have the blessing is being able to run. There are some people that have MS that can’t run at all. So I never look at having MS as a disability. It is something that I have to wake up to every single day and I have to keep on fighting. But I can never let this disease ruin my life,” he added.
“I really decided that I’m going to change my life, change my destiny. I always say that I wanted to change the destiny that MS has for me.” - Rappler.com with reports from Jonathan Perez