In the Rapids academy, at the University of Denver, on the training ground and now as an emerging MLS defender for Colorado, Kortne Ford always plays for one thing: his mother, Laurie.
“She’s my inspiration and she always will be,” the 21-year-old says. “When I’m sore, when I don’t feel like getting out of bed, when I’m tired, she’s just constantly there…pushing me.”
Ford and his mother are incredibly close, “probably stronger than most mothers and sons,” he believes. And they always have been, as it’s “always been just [them] two”: an only child and a single mother who “dropped everything” in 2008 to move from Kansas to Greeley, Colorado for a fresh start in life.
The hardships the two of them endured alone in Greeley, in a town they didn’t know full of people they didn’t know, pushed them closer together. Shortly after they arrived, when Kortne was 12, Laurie was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.
At the time, Kortne didn’t really understand the severity of his mother’s condition. “I know I’d seen cancer a lot on the news, so I knew it was a pretty severe thing – but I didn’t know how severe it was,” he says. “She did have a chance of passing away then, but I didn’t know. She didn’t want me worrying about it.”
What helped mask it is that Laurie continued to put her son first, doing all she could to push him towards his dream of playing professional soccer. During chemotherapy, she drove Kortne to and from Denver for practice – a roughly two-hour drive – so that he could keep training. This dedication is why Kortne feels he owes her all the credit for his up-and-coming career. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for her,” he says.
Though Kortne believes he’ll never fully be able to express his gratitude for the sacrifices she made for him, he did choose to attend college nearby at the University of Denver so that he could be close to hear through treatments. Shortly after he headed to DU, Laurie went into remission.
Unfortunately, however, the cancer recently re-emerged as Stage 4 bone cancer.
Signed to a Homegrown contract by the Rapids in January, Kortne now fights for her on the field, “play[ing] for her every single day.” It was Laurie who instilled in him his values of hard work, dedication and never giving up on your goals. He also gets to give her the gift of fulfilling her own, selfless goal: to be able to watch him achieve his dream of becoming a professional athlete.
Not having yet achieved that goal, Kortne says, was why there had been “no way in hell” she was going to lose the fight to cancer back in 2009.
And although the Fords have been used to overcoming hardships by themselves, this time around they have the support of an adopted family of sorts: the entire Colorado Rapids community.
Kortne and Laurie have been a part of the Rapids family for years, as Kortne played in the Rapids academy starting in 2012. Now, as a member of the first-team, he’s got a bit more visibility, and the Colorado community has stepped up. Rapids supporters’ group Centennial 38 set up a GoFundMe in support of Laurie, to which 190 people and counting – including teammates Josh Gatt and Kevin Doyle, as well as other MLS players – have already donated in just over two weeks. C38, who are matching the donations dollar-for-dollar, also organized #StandForTheFords, a 24th-minute standing ovation at their home match on May 5, to which fans also brought signs and two-poles to show their support.
“It’s incredible; she’s really happy and really moved,” says Ford. “I know how emotional she was after the game.”
“But at the same time,” he continues, “she was kind of stunned. When you see 10,000 fans standing up for you, I think it’s hard to cope with. We’ve never had that before; we’ve never had people go out of their way and reach out to support us. … We’ve always just been on our own.”
And it means even more to Ford considering the 1-6-1 Rapids’ slow start to the season.
“When that happens, it’s easy to shy away and become less supportive. But they’ve supported [the team], they’ve supported me, and most importantly…they’ve supported my mom.
“At the end of the day, I’m just very proud to be a part of a club where the community is so involved.”