Athletic royalty visited the District's Southwest waterfront Sunday for a charity soccer game to raise awareness about bone-marrow donations and give a boost to the growing business district.
While the game gave sports fans a chance to see the fancy footwork of some of soccer's finest - and the somewhat comedic attempts of other athletes - the afternoon was also an opportunity to garner support for bone-marrow donations.
"I know this city," said former professional soccer player and U.S. Olympian Mia Hamm, as she stood in her scarlet-and-blue jersey inside Kastles Stadium. "Washington comes out and gets involved."
Fans quickly filled the stadium just hours after a sellout crowd watched Manchester United defeat FC Barcelona 2-1 in their Saturday night soccer match at FedEx Field. Ms. Hamm is Barcelona's global ambassador.
The Washington Kastles tennis team recently moved to 800 Water St. as another step to redeveloping the growing business district.
Recalling her own family experience, Ms. Hamm described the search for a bone-marrow match as an event that changes the lives of patients and their extended families.
She lost her adopted brother, Garrett, in 1997 because of complications from aplastic anemia - a disorder that prevents the body from making new blood cells and protecting it from infection and bleeding.
Ms. Hamm said at the time of her brother's diagnosis she had little more than "a pickle jar and leaflets" to get people's attention and financial support.
However, thousands of dollars are now raised at the soccer games, and Ms. Hamm is just one of many familiar faces darting up and down the field.
Retired baseball player Nomar Garciaparra, who also happens to be Ms. Hamm's husband, battled good-naturedly against his wife for the ball while U.S. women's national team players Tobin Heath, Ali Krieger, Alex Morgan and Heather O'Reilly easily maneuvered their way between such high-profile athletes as Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall and Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson.
Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant gathered the most attention, as he stood head and shoulders above most of the players, sending passes to teammates and even spending the last quarter of the game defending the net and exchanging jokes with nearby fans.
As she clutched a book about Ms. Hamm, 12-year-old Serafina Maerden of Martinsburg, W.Va., waited along a railing to get her shot at an autograph.
"I've been to a few big games," the young soccer player said, "but it was great to see [Mia] play."
During a recognition ceremony at halftime, Glendale, Calif., resident Jeffery Santana embraced Andrew Vickers of Wise, Va., as the crowd got to its feet to cheer. The two men were linked 15 years ago when Mr. Santana learned that his bone marrow was a match for the then-16-year-old Vickers, who needed a transplant to live.
"Something in my heart told me he would be a perfect match," Mr. Santana said. "Some people don't think you'll have an impact on someone's life, but you will."
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