Condit Makes Our World a Better Place
Feb. 22, 2012
CHICAGO - There aren't very many college kids who would jump out of bed at 8 a.m. on a Saturday to watch "Sponge Bob Square Pants" on television before breakfast.
But the reason why DePaul women's soccer player Nikki Condit would do something so anomalous and out of character for a teenager is the beginning of a heartwarming tale.
Since she was in eighth grade, Condit has been especially devoted to a wonderful program for special-needs children in Waukesha, Wis.
In this particular instance, Condit was paired up with seven-year-old Kristen who was making the most out of life despite a mental disability.
John Burke, the TOPSoccer program organizer and Condit's soccer coach at Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha, had a hunch Condit would establish a unique rapport.
"She was my first TOPS child," Condit said. "Kristen was one of the more challenging children, but coach Burke saw that I really connected with the kids and assigned her to me. Half the time, we would just play tag or run around and laugh. She liked to climb on the bleachers, so I had to keep her away from that.
"Her favorite TV show was "Sponge Bob Square Pants." So, I started waking up early and watching Sponge Bob before breakfast. Then when she'd come to TOPS, I knew what she was talking about. She was special. I loved to make her smile."
Condit, a freshman forward who played in 17 matches last fall with five starts and fired off five shots on goal, recalled another memorable TOPS encounter.
"There was this 11-year-old boy I worked with who had a mental disability," Condit said. "He was one of the most brilliant kids I met. He was a storyteller. We would pass the soccer ball back and forth and talk.
"He knew everything about Greek mythology---the names and powers of all the gods and goddesses. He could talk all day long about all the different kinds of dinosaurs. He knew all about Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman. His capacity for information---I was astounded by it."
Both of these children and many more will be in the audience on Saturday when Condit accepts the Wisconsin TOPSoccer Volunteer of the Year Award at the Winter Fest event at Catholic Memorial.
"It's a huge honor," Condit said. "I've always gone back at the end of the TOPS season and attended Winter Fest when kids and coaches from all over the state get together.
"I never once imagined me being the person to receive the award. I don't think of TOPS as community service or that I'm doing it to get something out of it. It's just very special to me, and all the children I've worked with will be there.
"You feel great afterwards. It's almost like a retreat from my own personal world. Whatever problems I have, they're not important. The world is so much bigger than I am.
"I stepped out of my comfort zone and ended up loving what I found. I found a connection with these children. I know what a powerful impact sports can have on a person's life, and now soccer has presented me with this opportunity."
Burke will be beaming on Saturday.
"Nikki builds instant rapport because she approaches each child with a soft-spoken gentleness," Burke said. "When you watch Nikki play soccer, the first thing that comes to mind is power, intensity, and precision. But then you see her at TOPS where she demonstrates a gentle compassion that surprises and inspires us all."
A favorite Catholic Memorial soccer memory came to mind as Burke talked about one of his favorite players.
"Although our Catholic Memorial team is one of the most successful high school programs in the nation, my fondest memory of Nikki on the field occurred during one of our rare losses," Burke said. "We were playing the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, Davis High School in California.
"Despite all the injuries that required us to play with many reserve players, Nikki played her heart out the entire game and led some kids who had never started before to a remarkable performance and a narrow defeat. This is Nikki's nature, to compete with passion no matter what the odds are against you. This attitude is something that contributes to her being an excellent TOPSoccer coach.
"I hope each of my four daughters grows up to be a lot like her."
Whenever Condit goes home on a school break, she heads to TOPS.
"Why do I keep coming back?" Condit said. "It's a very humbling experience. You realize how fortunate you are. Being involved in sports is an important outlet for kids. It teaches you life lessons, skills and values. I'm able to provide that outlet for children who haven't been given that opportunity.
"These children don't think of it as a struggle. They're just so happy to be there. I'm here---let's make do with what we have.
"Sometimes, we do things on a whim. They're so happy and energetic, it seems like nothing is wrong. They are in their own element, surrounded by friends. They say hi and hug."
And now the Volunteer of the Year in Wisconsin is spreading her influence to Chicago. Condit volunteers at the Anixter Center in Lincoln Park working with special needs children. She is also volunteers her time at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Condit was the official scorekeeper for a wheelchair rugby tournament on Feb. 12.
"I did a report recently on the history of the Special Olympics, and I've been thinking maybe I could be a special education teacher or work in management for the Special Olympics," Condit said. "Whatever happens, I definitely know this is a lifetime involvement.
"I enjoy it. This is my guilty pleasure. Some people eat chocolates---I go to TOPS."