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For the love of their game

Anthony Occhiuto: My grandfather, the professional soccer player

On October 16, 2019

BY ANTHONY OCCHIUTO

VN SPECIAL WRITER

Ever since childhood, I have enjoyed sports.

I grew into in naturally, surrounded by athletes within my family.

The most noteworthy of them was my grandfather Antonio Occhiuto, who played professional soccer in Italy.

He grew up very poor in Italy, and his family could not afford much at all.

He was one of the most talented soccer players in his province, but his family could not fund his soccer, so he worked for it.

He held many little jobs around the city. All the money he earned went toward buying soccer equipment.

“You have to work hard for what you want,” he frequently told me.

My grandfather was a huge influence on me.

I am also heavily into sports.

I grew up playing basketball, soccer and golf.

As I got older, I focused on golf, and he made sure I knew how important it was to treat my sport as if it were my job – because, hopefully, one day it would be.

On days when I didn’t feel motivated, he would tell me, “There is someone always outworking you.”

I used it as motivation because I did not like the thought of someone else possibly working harder than me at my craft.

Everything he learned while playing soccer professionally, he taught to me. It had a positive effect.

In tough times, as I struggled on the course, he began to teach me about perspective in life.

When I would sometimes get angry on the golf course, he would share his thoughts, reminding me not get upset while playing.

My Uncle Johnny, his son, has Down Syndrome.

“Johnny would love to switch places with you in a heartbeat,” he would often tell me.

This helped put into perspective how small my problems were and make me go at it with a better attitude when I stepped on the course.

My grandfather passed away when I was in grade eight.

The last time I saw him was at a golf tournament I won.

It remains the favorite victory of my life, because it was the last one before his eyes.

It means even more to me now as time goes on. I try to cherish all my memories of him and never forget how he made me think and feel.

Beyond golf, he taught me to look at the bigger picture.

That is my mindset.

We bonded over sports in my childhood.

And whenever I accomplished something, I would call him first.

Sports made us tighter than ever.

It helped us form a deep connection, deeper than most grandsons and grandfathers.

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