Former USC long snapper Jake Olson lost his vision as a child due to retinoblastoma. He has not let blindness slow him down, but rather has thrived through adversity. This past spring, he used his platform as a player for one of the most iconic college football programs to raise $57,000 to help kids like him keep their vision.
When Jake Olson was just 12 years old, he eavesdropped on a conversation that changed his life forever. The doctors were on the phone, and had told his mom they were out of options to fight his case of retinoblastoma, a rare and fast-moving cancer located in the retina. They would have to remove his remaining eye.
Olson has spent the rest of his life blind, but far from defeated. In the decade since, he has shot in the 70s in golf, graduated high school with honors, become a professional speaker and author, started his own company, and played D1 football at the historic University of Southern California. Perhaps most importantly, he used that platform as a USC long snapper to earn over $57,000 to benefit retinoblastoma research, in an effort to ensure no more children suffering from the disease have to lose their eyesight like he did.
“I look back at the scared 12-year-old boy who was eavesdropping on that phone call, and see that devastating moment as an enormous blessing,” Olson said. ”I knew my resilience and persistence to fight even after defeat would define my future. For this reason, I am determined to cure the disease that took my eyesight.”
To aid children avoiding the same fate as he did, Olson has become a champion for the treatment. A new procedure known as Episcleral Topotecan needs funding in order to undergo a clinical trial that will make it the standard treatment for retinoblastoma. That’s why Olson pledged for every bench press rep at USC’s Pro Day. By recruiting pledges and supporters, each rep of his bench press performance worth over $3,300. Seventeen reps later, Olson had earned $57,434 to help kids like him keep their vision.
“Even though it was too late for me, it doesn’t have to be too late for the children who are facing the same reality I did nine years ago,” Olson said. The change in treatment has to do with the Episcleral Topotecan device, a non-invasive reservoir that is implanted in the eye to deliver direct chemotherapy. “I remember hearing about the development of this plaque around the time of my surgery and the reality is that this Episcleral device would have allowed me to see today.”
For his efforts on and off the field, Olson has received numerous awards. He was named the 2016 Rare Disease Champion, nominated for the 2015 Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award, and was named the 2018 Walter Camp Award of Perseverance winner.
Having graduated from USC in 2019, Olson now begins the next chapter in his life. As the President of Engage, his Los Angeles-based startup is looking to disrupt the talent booking industry. It allows consumers and talent to discover one another and schedule engagements online.
Backed by Olson’s usual tenacity, there is little doubt Engage will follow its President's lead and become another Silicon Valley success story.
Published on January 20, 2020
by Dave Costlow
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