FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – While everyone else these days is talking about “squad goals,” New England Revolution midfielder Kelyn Rowe is flying high on “crew goals.”
Rowe does have his squad, the Revs, who are currently battling for one of the Eastern Conference’s top two playoff spots, but it’s the creation of a new charity endeavor that he jumped into this year that has changed the game in a big way for the 23-year-old.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while now is create my own branch of things,” Rowe told MLSsoccer.com. “I know I wouldn’t be able to start my own foundation, at least not yet. It takes a lot of work. More than I really expected. I wanted to put my name on something and build on it.”
That something was "Kelyn’s NEGU Crew," a five-match program whose tough, young participants live by the “Never Ever Give Up” acronym that stands as the center of its core. Rowe partnered with the Jessie Rees Foundation – an organization that provides support to childhood cancer patients and their families, and one Rowe has long supported – to give each patient the opportunity to go out and enjoy a memorable experience at a Revolution game.
Each participant is fitted with a Revs’ No. 11 jersey, seats for them and their family, and then a postgame walk around the pitch with Rowe, with supporters remaining on hand to cheer and exchange high-fives.
“There was an event that we did just once last year, at the end of the year,” Rowe said of the origins for this program. “I really enjoyed it. It was something where not just the kids loved it, but when we were walking on the field afterwards, I loved what it meant for them. So I wanted to continue that.
“We did five this year, which is great and I want to do more next year if we can. I love that each kid is different and each kid has a different type of illness as well as a different age. What’s great is that they all come together and they all have a great time. No matter their inabilities, they’re having some fun.”
Grayson, Ben, Mikey, Gabriel and Gavin were the crew’s inaugural members this season, each leaving their match with a glowing smile and lasting memories thanks to Rowe’s initiative.
Those smiles are infectious to Rowe, who admits that the rewards he gets from being around these courageous kids and families keeps him grounded and humble. He also admits to getting a great boost in knowing that crew members are on hand to root him and the club on, giving him a little extra fuel for the matches they attend.
“It makes it easier to go out there and have some fun,” said Rowe. “You see these guys having so much fun and obviously you want to play well for them. You want to play well for the team as well every game. When you have that little extra motivation it makes it easier to go out in those last 10 minutes when you are exhausted. You know that someone’s in the crowd watching. You know it’s going to push you that last 10 minutes, 12 minutes, whatever it may be. You want to do well and when you do well you have someone to look up and wave at.”
It’s just another step in the maturation of Rowe, who has teetered on the line between young talent and veteran leader in this, his fourth season as a pro. The creation of the crew has helped him to be more at ease and stand more firmly on the veteran side of that line, with his solid output – his six goals and six assists are both second on New England this year – cementing his increased stature on the second-placed Revs.
“We’re excited about where he is and where he’s going to keep going because there are times where he can do things that no one else can do,” said New England head coach Jay Heaps. “Now he’s doing it at the right times and that’s showing.”
While Heaps was referring to Rowe’s play on the field, he could just as easily relate it to everything else that Rowe does, most especially with regards to Kelyn’s NEGU Crew. The Seattle-area native understands his status as a pro athlete gives him a platform to make things better for others, even if only for a brief moment in time.
“You can be a good role model, you can be positive or negative,” said Rowe. “I shoot to be a positive. With that I then get dragged back to Earth. There’s a lot of highs and a lot of lows in this game and in my life…you can’t be too high, you can’t be too low. You’ve got to be right in the middle.
“I haven’t felt this in any other time. I go to hospitals and things of that sort, but when a kid walks around the field, and he has a huge smile on his face, smacking everyone high-fives, there’s just a different kind of glow to them.”