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Episode 13: Jake Olson

LIFE ON TOUR  

“With blindness comes a lot of frustration in activities that once may have been easy,” Jake Olson said from the living room of his family home in Huntington Beach, California. “Now I have to figure out a different way of doing it.”

But figuring it out is something that 22-year-old Jake Olson does best. A collegiate athlete, surfer, golfer, and all-around great guy who founded a charity as a freshman in high school to assist blind children, Jake hasn’t allowed his lack of eyesight to slow him down. You may be familiar with Jake’s story from the ESPN specials, but as longtime friends of Jake’s, TravisMathew is excited to share his story with the world—a story marked with perseverance, optimism, and one of the greatest comebacks an individual can achieve.

At just 8 months old, Jake Olson was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer called retinoblastoma, a disease that rapidly develops from the immature cells of a retina, the light-detecting tissue of the eye.

Throughout his adolescence, Jake’s cancer returned eight times, eventually causing doctors to remove his left eye. When Jake turned 12, his cancer returned one last time.

jake-olson “The only option left to preserve my life and make sure the cancer didn’t spread was to remove my right eye,” Jake told us, “which meant I had to go completely blind.”

Growing up as a USC fan, one of Jake’s last wishes before losing his eyesight was to see a Trojan football game. Coach Pete Carroll heard about Jake’s request and invited the Olson family to a practice, fueling Jake’s love of football.

“I didn’t want to go through high school without playing football…so, I learned how to long snap,” Jake related with an easy smile.

“I’ve always kind of been of the mindset that if there’s a will, there’s a way,” Jake explained. “I really like to prove to myself what I can and cannot do. Like, ‘Have we tried it enough times? Are we really still going to do this? Yes, we are!’” Jake laughed. “We are still gonna go through it, so buckle down.”

With hard work and perseverance, Jake earned the starting long snapper position for his junior and senior seasons in high school.

“There’s so much to learn from how Jake’s lived his life to just who Jake is…” Jake’s father Brian Olson shared with us. “Even on his most difficult days, Jake was leading the charge of, ‘It’s going to be alright! We’re going to get through this.’”

Jake did more than just get through it. During his senior year of high school, Jake received a call from USC—not only did he get into his dream college, he had earned a spot on the football team as a reserve long snapper.

Two years later, on September 2, 2017, Jake snapped his first ever collegiate PAT.

“I really was just appreciating literally having the USC uniform on, going out in the Coliseum and actually snapping a live snap. It’s just fun, you know? I can’t help but smile when thinking about it,” Jake remembered, grinning through the story.

“Jake has always found a way to do it…I know the way he battled cancer and the way he approached the thought of losing sight and came into it at a point where he knew great things were going to happen. I knew great things were going to happen,” Brian Olson explained of his son. “The kid was just not going to be stopped. And the best part…Jake’s just getting started.”

Whether Jake’s just getting started or rolling with passions he’s had since he was a kid, one thing remains clear: he isn’t slowing down.

Now a graduate from USC with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, Jake is funneling his efforts into caring for blind children, both through his charity Out of Sight Faith and through volunteering at the Blind Children’s Learning Center in Tustin, California.

“There needs to be an example of someone that’s blind, is in their situation, but has persevered,” Jake shared his heart. By supplying invaluable technology in the classroom, it’s Jake’s hope that his foundation can work to create normal school environments for blind children.

“TravisMathew heard about what I was doing around my freshman year of high school. They were able to help me get my foundation off the ground and really made a difference,” Jake explained, detailing the beginning of Out of Sight Faith. “They made a clothing line that had a couple of Braille shirts, a Braille hat, a belt that had different Braille sayings on it, and all the proceeds went to my charity.”

With the launch of Jake’s Life on Tour, TravisMathew has created a new Braille t-shirt and hat, fittingly called the Jake Collection. All profits support Out of Sight Faith and Jake’s mission to impact the lives of blind children by supplying life-changing technology in classrooms.

“It does take perseverance; it does take patience,” Jake told us with heart and hope. “It does take the belief that the setback will become the set up and then you’ll see it.”

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