It was a standing ovation to remember – and for good reason.
Chris Odoi-Atsem was coming off the field after starting and playing 68 minutes for D.C. United. And the crowd wasn’t just cheering because he put in a solid performance. Instead, it likely had more to do with the significance.
For Odoi Atsem, it was the first time he played for United since he was diagnosed with cancer – stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I can’t really put into words how I felt,” Odoi-Atsem said, reflecting on the moment as he hugged coach Ben Olsen upon exiting the field May 29 in what ended as a 3-3 draw against the Chicago Fire at Audi Field. “I kind of think back, going through chemo or laying in the bed for hours.”
DMV proud and raised, Odoi-Atsem, 24, was born in Prince George’s County, went to DeMatha Catholic High School, played soccer at the University of Maryland and then was drafted by D.C. United.
“I was finally ready to move on to another place, you know maybe halfway across the country, but I got lucky enough to be drafted by the hometown team,” Odoi-Atsem said.
But not even two years into his professional career, the sport he loves was taken away last October.
“When the doctor said you have cancer, how did that register?” ABC7 sports reporter Scott Abraham asked.
“It’s a little tough. But like I said, it was a little bit of a relief that I finally knew what was going on,” Odoi-Atsem said.
But even after the diagnosis, Odoi-Atsem went into athlete mode, ready to fight and compete.
“It was like any other challenge for me that I dealt with in my life, I would take it with a smile on my face,” Odoi-Atsem said.
After four months of intense chemotherapy, Odoi-Atsem is now cancer free.
And now he’s back on the field, playing at a high level for United.
“That was my main goal, throughout my treatments,” Odoi-Atsem said. “That was always in my head was playing here on Audi Field.”
A professional soccer player turned cancer survivor who is becoming an inspirational role model.
“All athletes have goals, you beat cancer, you got back on the field, what’s next?” Odoi-Atsem said.
What’s the next goal for Odoi-Atsem?
“If I can inspire anyone else, that will be my goal, so I have a platform now to tell my story,” Odoi-Atsem said. “It can inspire one person, I’m happy with that.”
Healthy, happy and motivated, Odoi-Atsem has a lot more left to accomplish.
By Scott Abraham/ABC7