Tim Grant needed a distraction. Nine months ago, doctors gave him the news that the 58-year-old from Eagan had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The outlook was grim. “Make him comfortable” was what doctors told his family.
Summer months always treated Grant well, highlighted by the Schwan’s USA CUP in Blaine. Grant refereed the youth soccer tournament for 30 years.
Cancer took away his reffing abilities. But he still found the strength to be involved. Grant served as an interpreter and translator for the Brazilian and Mexican teams and was a driver for ref transportation at last week’s tournament.
“I told my wife there was no question I was going to be here if my health was good enough,” Grant said. “And actually, if you would have asked me two weeks ago if I would have been up here, they would have said no. The Lord has blessed me to have the health that I can come here every day. He’s blessed me with nine months now. They gave me a short period of time to live.”
The USA CUP has intertwined within Grant’s life. Twenty years ago, his wedding was pushed back because the last day of the tournament was rainy and got delayed. His future wife understood, as she was an international referee from Brazil.
The two met in Brazil, but it was because of the USA CUP that they connected even more.
The reffing community at the National Sports Center tournament has become tight-knit, with refs from all over the world reuniting once a year.
They all know Grant’s story.
“Seeing the international referees is great,” Grant said. “They see me at the doorway and they come flying over. People go out of their way to give me a big hug. Some of the refs from Mexico and England I’ve known since starting reffing here.”
It’s as good of therapy as he can ask for. Grant isn’t getting treatment anymore for his cancer besides pain medication.
“It’s kind of hard to deal with,” he said. “I go through bouts where I get depressed. I worry about my kids, my wife and leaving them.”
“I miss being out there,” Grant added on not being able to ref. “But I know I can’t. Physically I know I can’t be out there. By being here at the tournament rather than being at home, I’m still in the mix. The referees know who I am. Doing the referee cart and hauling them around, a lot of them pre-schedule and want me to pick them up.”
One of the Brazilian referees who’s been coming to the USA for more than 20 years had a running joke with Grant’s wife.
“He and my wife said that they expected to be burying me and that I would die on the soccer field reffing,” Grant said. “And I said what does that mean now that I have cancer? And they said you’re going to get better, but you’re still going to die on a soccer field. And I said I’ll take that.”
The doctors have told Grant he is healthier and stronger than expected. And if it continues, he’ll be on a plane next week to Brazil to relax with his wife.