tampabay.com

You can call him world champion

A local teen was Team USA's hero in power soccer.

By EILEEN SCHULTE, Times Staff Writer
Published October 25, 2007


SAFETY HARBOR -- It's not hard to find Danny Gorman's house these days.

Banners hang from the garage and trees welcoming Safety Harbor's hometown hero back from Asia.

Step onto the screened-in porch, and one of the first things you encounter is a wood ramp gently sloping up to the front door.

It's not something you typically see at the home of a world-class athlete.

But 16-year-old Danny "Stormin"' Gorman is not like a lot of other high-achieving athletes.

Wearing a navy blue T-shirt emblazoned with a beautifully scripted Japanese word, Danny sat at his family's kitchen table one day this week and reluctantly opened up about one of the most exciting days in his life.

It was Oct. 13, 10 time zones away in Tokyo. There, Danny scored a game-winning goal in overtime for Team U.S.A. to beat a heavily favored French team and win the Power Soccer World Cup.

Danny is no bragger, but his fans see his goal -- scored from a wheelchair -- as big as any by David Beckham.

Now a junior and member of the National Honor Society at East Lake High School, Danny started playing wheelchair soccer in 2004.

"I thought it was like really cool to get out there," he said. "It was the only sport I can play."

* * *

When Danny was just 5, Don and Debbie Gorman noticed their little boy was had trouble climbing stairs while at day care. And when he went to tumble, he never put his hands down to protect himself, instead landing on his head.

It turned out that his arms were weak.

His parents took him to a pediatrician who gave him a blood test. The news wasn't good.

On April 25, 1996, Danny was diagnosed with a genetic disorder called Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It's a fatal muscular condition, and doctors initially gave Danny until his late teens to live. Now, with medical advances, he could live until his mid 20s, but he has not walked since he was 10.

In power soccer, Danny and other players use motorized wheelchairs, their fronts protected with a metal guard, to pass and shoot an oversized ball. In competition, the chairs are limited to 6.2 mph, though Danny's tops out at 9 mph.

Danny, who plays forward and midfield positions, plays with the Tampa Thunder Power Soccer Team at the Safety Harbor Community Center. His father Don, 45, who works for State Farm Insurance in the auto claims department, is the team's head coach.

Danny also fine-tuned his skills at training camps in Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Berkeley, Calif. He was so good, he was one of eight players -- and the youngest player -- selected to compete for Team U.S.A. at the international championships Oct. 9-13 in Tokyo.

* * *

At the World Cup, Team U.S.A. crushed teams from Japan, England, Portugal, Belgium and Denmark.

Then came France.

During the first half, Danny watched from the sidelines while the starters took the field.

"I was watching to see what would happen," he said.

Then, voila: France scored.

In the second half, Danny's coach put him in. Five minutes later, he converted a pass from one of his teammates into a game-tying goal.

Sitting in the bleachers, Debbie Gorman, 44, got goose bumps.

Then the game got even more tense.

Regulation play ended in a 1-1 tie.

So did the first overtime.

So did the second.

As Debbie Gorman's hands dripped with sweat, the game went into a winner-take-all shootout.

In the second round of the shootout, Danny put his shot just inside the right goal post, a shot he had practiced a thousand times at the Safety Harbor Community Center. Then a French player's shot was blocked and Team U.S.A. won.

The crowd was quiet for about three seconds waiting for the referee to give the signal that Team U.S.A. was victorious, then everybody went crazy.

"We rushed onto the court and gave everyone hugs," Don Gorman said.

At first, the French team was shocked and surprised, Gorman said. It just didn't sink in that they had lost. They had their heads hung low. But after a few minutes, they were supportive of the U.S. team, and congratulated them.

Of course his parents were elated. And Danny thought, "Hey, we're the best in the world."

It's a fact that has followed him home from Japan.

That Japanese word on his T-shirt?

Ichiban.

"It means No. 1," Danny said.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

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