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Howard inspires through Tourette’s
U.S. soccer star succeeds despite disease
Published Thursday, July 10, 2014 10:16 am
by Ashley Mahoney, For The Charlotte Post

Tim Howard’s success on soccer’s biggest stage has brought renewed attention to Tourette’s Syndrome.

U.S. soccer goalkeeper Tim Howard, whose spectacular play helped the Americans advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup tournament, has Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, involuntary tics. It hasn’t stopped Howard from excelling in Europe, where soccer dominates the sports landscape.

While the precise number of those with Tourette’s is unknown, the American Academy of Neurology has determined that 1 to 3 percent of the world’s population has the disease. Among them is Howard, the goalkeeper on the U.S men’s national team who earned raves for helping the Americans advance to the World Cup’s round of 16.

Howard depicted the disorder to the National Tourette Syndrome Association as a “speed bump, not a stop sign.” Since then, he has been described as “ever reliable” and the “model of consistency” by his professional team, Everton Football Club in England. Howard set a new record for consecutive Premier League appearances for one club with his 184th successive game, and signed a new contract in April, that will keep him in Everton until 2018.  

When Howard first arrived in England in 2003 to play for Manchester United, the British tabloids taunted him for his Tourette’s, typically tossing around terms like “disabled’ and “retarded.” Even Manchester United fans mocked him with a chant to the melody from the Disney Film “Mary Poppins.” “Chim, Chim, Cheree” became “Tim, Tim Timery … say (expletive) you!” They were alluding to a rare symptom — coprolalia — of Tourette’s, which causes a person to have an uncontrollable urge to swear aloud. It is a common stereotype of TS.

The American Academy of Neurology characterizes Tourette’s as a “disorder of the nervous system characterized by repetitive, involuntary tics,” which typically commence around age 7. In order for an official diagnosis to occur, they specify that an individual’s “motor and vocal tics” must last for longer than a year. Typical symptoms include involuntary blinking, shoulder shrugging, and head jerking. Extreme cases involve coprolalia—which can also cause an individual to punch him or herself.  

According to the National Tourette Syndrome Association, “85 to 90 percent” of those with TS “are not prone to” coprolalia. Nor are people with TS “psychologically impaired, less intelligent, obstinate, or purposefully disruptive.” While symptoms may become worse during the teenage years, they tend to subside as one grows older.

Howard’s symptoms first appeared when he was 8 years old. Along with Tourette’s symptoms—blinking head tics, and his upper body tensing up—came Obsessive Compulsive Disorder —defined by the National Tourette Syndrome Association as “having obsessions, compulsions or both.” The U.S International noted this “behavior”—like the need to pick up rocks while walking home from school—to Neurology Now as “normal stuff … for someone with OCD.”

Howard’s symptoms were at their worst from 9-15.

“It was just this chaos of different tics,” Howard recalled to Neurology Now. “I would just begin to figure out how a tic worked with my body, and bam, six months or a year later, a new tic would come.”

Neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks told the National Tourette Syndrome Association that people with Tourette’s often have “a sort of risky adventurousness” about them, which allows them to live without inhibitions. Such qualities helped Howard win games, hearts and minds across the globe as well as inspire people with Tourette’s.

“I’m not perfect,” Howard told World Soccer Journeys. “I’m far from it and that is the reason I do need Jesus. I try to live it … I stumble, as many people do, but always in the belief that I’m loved and that I’m meaningful.”


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