Student uses soccer as a way to work through the difficult circumstances that life throws at him
El Camino student Omar Solano shares the struggles he faced throughout his life, such as being the eldest male in the household at the age of seven when his father was incarcerated, and how he used soccer as a means to cope and pull through.
May 30, 2018
Seated next to his father Omar Sr., a younger Omar, then just 10 years old, beamed at the thought of finally bringing his dad back home. But, as his uncle Miguel’s Lincoln pulled away from one of the many prisons that detained Omar Sr., for the past three years, an uncomfortable silence betrayed the joyous occasion.
Omar, along with his dad, grandparents, uncle Miguel, aunt Maritza, and younger brother Jason, sat quietly as they continued onto the freeway to an unfamiliar destination.
“He was released to us and we took him straight to the airport. I thought he was coming home, until he told me he had to go away (again),” Omar says.
Omar Solano is a 21-year-old student at El Camino College and an avid soccer player. Born and raised in South Central, Los Angeles, life for Omar has not always been easy.
Omar’s father was incarcerated when Omar was just seven years old, for reasons that he did not know.
“I didn’t know what happened to him. I honestly didn’t understand it. I was just lost. I was stuck trying to figure out why he wouldn’t come home at night,” Omar says.
Unable to comprehend what had happened to his father, Omar and his younger brother Jason would stay up late waiting for their dad to get home from work, where they presumed he was all day and night.
Eventually, Omar’s mother Rocio, explained to him that his father was imprisoned. Soon afterward, they began visiting him almost every weekend.
Once Omar Sr., was released from prison over three years later, he was deported to Mexico via jetliner that same day.
Before Omar Sr., stepped onto the plane that would take him away from his family once again, he explained to 10-year-old Omar that he was very sorry. He told Omar that he was now “the man of the house,” as Omar recalls.
“It was a lot of pressure for me…having to be responsible for everything,” Omar says.
He was only a child, given the responsibilities of an adult. Expected to not only protect his single-mother and little brother, but take care of them as well. His brother now looked up to him as a “father-figure,” Omar says.
Omar didn’t fully understand the hardships he faced until he was about 16. “There was a lot of responsibilities that landed on my shoulders, like getting a job, helping around the house, cleaning, making food for me and my little brother, walking him to school and picking him up, doing chores and helping him with his homework,” Omar explains.
Without his father in the picture, the obligations that he had to his mother and brother left Omar feeling very frustrated. Soccer was a way for him to release his stress. Soccer distracted Omar from the anxieties he felt from not having his dad in his life.
“When I step on the soccer field, I feel like I forget everything. All the stress that I have on my back leaves. All I focus on is the ball. And the game,” Omar says.
Despite growing up without his father, and navigating through the Los Angeles suburb notorious for the Watts Riots of 1965, Omar has stayed focused and driven. He credits his mom Rocio, his brother Jason, his teachers, his high school soccer coaches Flavio and Victor, and his favorite sport, soccer for keeping him on the right path.
In high school, Omar made sure to get involved and stay on top of his studies. He knew that if he didn’t keep his grades up, he wouldn’t be allowed to play soccer.
Already a member of Jordan High School’s Associated Student Body, Omar was elected class president his junior and senior year of high school. “Honestly, I feel like it was popularity,” Omar says coyly.
“I knew everyone at Jordan. I would talk to all the students and interact with each grade at pep-rallies. I would get involved with everyone,” Omar says.
It’s that same outgoing personality and friendly vibe that stood out to his friend, and goalkeeper, 21-year-old Gustavo Rosales.
“(Omar) didn’t like the fact that I was quiet. He got me out of my comfort zone and I liked that about him,” Gustavo says.
Gustavo and Omar met at a school dance their senior year of high school where, coincidentally, Gustavo was on a blind date with Omar’s god-sister.
The two bonded over their love of batman, comic books, childhood shows, and of course, soccer. “We kind of grew up the same, only I understood that his background was different than mine,” Gustavo says.
“When Omar first told me that when he was younger his dad got deported, I kind of see that as a struggle. I never went through something like that in my life. I can’t really imagine a life without my father,” Gustavo says.
Knowing this brought Gustavo closer to Omar. He feels a “brotherly bond” with him. And now they support each other on and off the soccer field.
Having the support of his friends, his teachers and his soccer coaches was a blessing for Omar. “They shaped me a lot. They showed me that without an education, I would end up in the streets,” Omar says.
Omar knew many friends from high school that ended up pregnant or even worse, dead, “because they stopped going to school,” Omar says.
He has lost friends due to gun violence, a hit-and-run, and overdose. Omar was helping these same friends come back to high school. “Once I heard what happened to them, it was devastating. It broke my heart. I tried so hard to help them come back (to school). I showed them that actually, somebody does care about you,” Omar says.
These unfortunate events showed Omar how easy it is to go down a dangerous path when not focused or not involved in sports and school activities.
“I had to think about my brother. He already lost a father, and an older brother? He would be alone. So he actually motivated me to do a lot of things. Stay focused. To stay on the right path. To make a path for him,” Omar says.
Omar had his brother in mind, and the words of his father from so long ago, when his mother Rocio lost both of her jobs his senior year of high school and the summer that followed.
After getting accepted to multiple colleges such as, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, San Diego State University, and California State University, Northridge, and offered scholarships to all, Omar made the unselfish decision to stay home, get a job, and help provide for his family.
“I was stressed. I was depressed because I really wanted to go to Pomona and San Diego State. But now that I’ve started (at ECC) I’ve opened up a portal to U.C. Santa Cruz, and so did my brother. He got a letter from (U.C. Santa Cruz) saying that as long as he keeps up his GPA, they will give him a full scholarship,” Omar says.
Omar knows that this is his path now and it has already opened up new doors for him. He plans to double-major in social work and psychology and he is excited for his future.
These days, you can find Omar and Gustavo on the soccer field at El Camino College playing the sport that has changed both of their lives.
Dressed in a gray t-shirt and navy soccer shorts, Omar sports a stylish haircut, with a hard part and a clean low fade. His thick jet-black hair rests on the right side of his head.
His Nike cleats kick up black rubber turf pellets as he volleys the ball between his feet, back and forth, left to right.
He wipes the sweat from his brow with his shirt and stares daringly through the net as he sets up for his shot.