Until 15 months ago, Jay DeMerit wasn’t someone too familiar with spare time. At the height of his career, in fact, he estimates he only had about three weeks off from soccer a year. So now, the former USMNT and MLS player is taking advantage of his recent retirement, since he finished paying with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2014.
Besides visiting family and taking personal time, of course, that’s meant re-dedicating himself to causes close to his heart: youth soccer development and philanthropy.
On a recent weekend, DeMerit returned to his home state of Wisconsin for a series of events to pump up young athletes, and raise money raise money for both the Milwaukee Soccer Development Group and his own Rise and Shine Foundation (RSF). From Ted talks to Skype sessions, DeMerit has been using a documentary about his life, Rise and Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story, as a vehicle to inspire people to chase their dreams.
“You always want to give back to where you come from and give thanks to your roots and what made you who you are,” he said. “I need to promote the idea that there should be more of us [pro soccer players from Wisconsin.]”
DeMerit originally funded the movie with a Kickstarter campaign—and from that, he says, he feels a responsibility to pay that generosity forward. Thus came the foundation of the same name, which he co-founded with his wife, Ashleigh, an Olympic gold medalist in ski cross.
Their first big project? The Rise and Shine Retreat near Pemberton, British Columbia. DeMerit envisions it as a place to host camps of around 40 people at a time, teaching soccer skills, but life skills as well. That side of mentorship is particularly interesting to DeMerit as he continues to immerse himself in youth development.
The RSF recently obtained official foundation status in Canada and is ready to start taking donations, not only to improve the proposed retreat grounds, but to begin a scholarship fund so underprivileged players from across North America have access to their camps. “Hopefully we can continue to evolve it, but first we’ll start with what we know,” says DeMerit.
In addition to his work with his foundation, he also made his first foray into the broadcast booth to help with Whitecaps coverage on TSN while the Women’s World Cup was in Canada. After that successful stint, he says he hasn’t ruled out future broadcast possibilities.
But broadcasting, touring with the documentary, and starting a foundation aren’t all he’s up to. DeMerit has also started the Portmanteau Stereo Company, putting the product design degree he earned at the University of Illinois-Chicago to use. With that company, he repurposing vintage luggage and reclaimed Western Red Cedar into stereos and speakers, allowing him to get his hands dirty and use the creative side of his brain.
In other words, DeMerit is relishing his new freedom. “Anyone that knows me and my personality knows that I jump right into things,” he says, “so why would this be any different?”