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Bruins' Futagaki Using Soccer as Vehicle to Make His Ailing Father Proud


Amid the noise of the fans, players and coaches at UCLA men's soccer games, it's silence that drives Ryan Futagaki.

Futagaki's biggest fan is his father. But unlike his teammates, Futagaki can't hear his father's cheers. He can only imagine what his father would be telling him.

Arnold Futagaki has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease. The condition was diagnosed in 1995, two years after symptoms first appeared. He is unable to speak or use his legs or left arm. But Futagaki goes to nearly every game and watches his son from his wheelchair.

"It's the highlight of his life," Shirley Futagaki, Ryan's mother, said of her husband. "It's what keeps him going. That outing is pretty much our social life."

He'll be at UCLA's North Athletic Field today when the defending national champion Bruins (16-3) play Fresno State (11-5-5) at 1 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The joy Arnold feels while at UCLA games is shared by Ryan, a freshman midfielder from Fountain Valley High.

"It's like a little spark into my game," Ryan said of his father's support. "This season, I dedicated all my soccer to him because he makes me strive to do the very best at everything."

Arnold introduced Ryan to soccer when he was 4 and coached his son in soccer and Little League.

"I want to make him proud," Ryan said. "To show him what he brought me up to be like. And I want to go pro for him."

Before he turns professional, Ryan has a collegiate career to think about.

After playing on the U.S. national under-20 team over the summer with four other Bruins, he has played in all 19 games for UCLA, starting 10. But it hasn't been a smooth season.

"His season started off well, then he hit a bit of a lull," said Bruin Coach Sigi Schmid, who coaches the under-20 team. "Over the last three or four weeks, he's really picked up his game."

Now, Futagaki says he's playing at a higher level.

"What really brought me down during my slump was I felt like I was letting down the people who came to watch me," he said. "I am hard on myself because I expect a lot out of me."

Futagaki regularly has one of the largest cheering sections in the Bruin crowd.

"There's at least 10 of us, if not more," said Ryan's older brother, Brandon. "There are grandparents, aunts, uncles, everybody."

The family has been to every home game and missed only three road games.

"We get a car full of old people, and with my husband, it takes a while to get there," Shirley said, laughing. "But we do it."

With her husband having only partial use of his right arm, Shirley Futagaki has to dress, feed and bathe him, along with helping him with other daily routines.

"I'm pretty much the sole caregiver," she said. "But that's part of my job."

She reduced her hours as a secretary, working only one day a week. The family relies on Arnold's disability payments and her income to get by.

"The bills are met and we're not in debt," she said.

She gets help from her two oldest sons, Brandon and Brent, especially with the more physically demanding work.

While his brothers help out around the house, Ryan knows the best thing he can do for his dad is play soccer.

"I do this for him," Ryan said, "because I know if he was in a situation where he could help me out he'd be doing everything possible for me."

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