SANDY, Utah (ABC4) — A young soccer fan had his wish granted and got to live out his dream of training with the pros on Friday, July 21.
In partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Luka Klein was invited out to America First Field in Sandy where he got to lace up his boots and hit the pitch alongside Real Salt Lake players like Diego Luna, Zac McMath, Justen Glad, and Damir Kreilach.
At just two weeks old, Luka Klein was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis – a genetic disease that affects the lungs, pancreas, and other vitals. Luka’s mother, Sarah Klein, told ABC4 he goes through two hours’ worth of treatments a day, over 20 pills a day, and has been through several primary hospital stays.
Sarah said through it all, soccer has kept Luka going.
“Soccer is life for this kid, and it’s been one of the things that has motivated him to work hard and stay healthy,” Sarah said. She added that on the outside, you would never know there was something on with Luka on the inside.
On Friday, Luka was treated like a VIP by Real Salt Lake. He met with General Manager Elliot Fall to officially sign his contract to be a player with little to no negotiation – a fact Sarah joked they would have to work with him on. The team then provided him with his own jersey and all the gear he would need to be a game-day-ready professional. All that was left to do was to train.
Luka practiced his shots against Goalkeeper Zac McMath, even placing one into the back of the net against the experienced goalie. He ran passing drills with the team, played a “hacky-sack” style game with a soccer ball, and was even part of the team huddle.
“Luka sat in the stadium, looked at this grass — he comes down before the game to try to wave at the players and now he’s down here?” said Luka’s father, Eric Klein. “It’s just an unbelievable experience to be able to touch the grass [and] shoot on the goal against the goalie.”
Make-A-Wish Utah CEO Daniel Dudley said it’s experiences like this that can make the difference for kids battling illness. The foundation grants wishes for children ranging anywhere from two-and-a-half to 18 years old. He says the wishes give the children something to look forward to and can provide resilience, strength, and a better likelihood to beat their illness.
“It’s because of the generosity and the kindness of partners like Real Salt Lake and America First that we are actually able to say yes,” said Dudley. “We receive an idea from an amazing kid that would like to visit his favorite soccer team or have an amazing soccer-themed experience and then we can reach out to community partners who, with open arms, bring that idea to reality.”
Luka has enjoyed every bit of his day of training with Real Salt Lake and his parents could not have been happier. His parents told ABC4 Luka had asked to shoot against McMath again.
“It’s been overwhelming in the best possible way ever to see your child’s dream kind of come to fruition,” said Sarah Klein. “Especially after all of the hardships that we’ve endured and how much he goes through every day. As a mom, it’s the best thing you could probably see.”
Sarah said the whole community has come together to help Luka carry out his wish, making it a special day for the whole family they won’t soon forget.
Dudley told ABC4 the wish isn’t over for Luka Klein quite yet. In a couple of days, the Kleins will be attending a Manchester United game as they tour through the United States, and “the wish will continue.”