LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Nani was not the only all-star representing Orlando City Soccer Club this past week — on Field 17 at ESPN Wide World of Sports, Jack Gourlay took the field.
- Jack Gourlay represented Orlando City in Special Olympics All-Star Match
- Gourlay used to be nonverbal autistic, but soccer has helped him speak
- "I always wanted to be a pro player," Mount Dora resident says
“He seems very calm, and very focused in his skills," Special Olympics Florida CEO and President Sherry Wheelock said. "He can really do some amazing things."
Gourlay and his friend, Samantha Salonon, represented the club in the Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star Soccer Match, put on by Major League Soccer.
Salonon has only known him a short while but has learned a lot about his play.
"He’s British. He’s really, really fast. And I wouldn’t want to be on the other end of his shot," she said before the match.
When you watch Gourlay on the pitch, you can just tell there's something special about the Mount Dora resident.
“What I love to see is when our athletes really surprise everyone with their abilities," Wheelock said. "And Jack has that in him. He’s going to be playing hard.”
Growing up with a family from the United Kingdom, soccer was always present in Gourlay's childhood. He used the sport as an outlet as he got older, because for more than a decade, he was considered nonverbal autistic.
But that never stopped him from kicking the ball around, hoping to one day play at a high level.
“It’s his life — he was very dedicated... That's what he wanted to do," said his father, David. "That’s what he wanted to be. So today was the icing on the cake, so to speak.”
He began to play in an exchange program set up between the MLS, Special Olympics, and Unified, which sparked an immediate change in his demeanor. After a few years of playing competitively, Gourlay began to speak.
"It’s been all my dream, because I’ve been dreaming this since I was little, that I always wanted to be a pro player," he said at the event.
He got the chance to live that dream at Walt Disney World on Wednesday — so maybe dreams really do come true there after all.
He scored in the game. Not once, but twice, in the biggest game of his career. He ultimately led the East to a 2-1 victory over the West.
"It’s more than a feeling to actually fulfill your dream, to actually follow your dreams of what you wanted in your future," he said. "And I’m very emotional right now."