“You should not be afraid of death, it’s inevitable, it will come for all of us – what you should be afraid of is not doing great things when you are alive.” – Brian Schmetzer
Some days are better than others. For the rest of her life, Tara Beatty will ask why. Why did this happen to her son? Why does childhood cancer only get four percent of government funding? Why did he have to endure so much pain before he died?
There are undoubtedly days where she’s overwhelmed with gratitude. Thankful she could have eight wonderful years with Nathan. Thankful for all he could experience in his final year on Earth. Thankful for so many wonderful people who poured out their love after he was diagnosed.
May 4 isn’t one of those days, at least it shouldn’t be. The fourth of each month is unbearable. It marks another month that her beloved son passed away after an 11-month battle with brain cancer.
Ten months to the date they held Nathan for the final time, Tara, her husband, Clint, and their oldest son, Colin, were in Seattle for another visit to their favorite city. A few years ago, it would be difficult to imagine a humble family from the Dallas suburbs would find solace, comfort and joy from a professional sports organization in the Pacific Northwest. Yet here they were, back in Seattle.
The Beattys have made the trip out west several times since Nathan was diagnosed, with a Sounders match the highlight each time. Nathan attended three in the fall of 2016. Last summer, the Beattys went to another match, and spread Nathan’s ashes at the beach of his favorite park in Tacoma the following day.
On that May afternoon, the day before they planned to watch the Sounders play the Columbus Crew, the Beatty family walked around the club’s downtown offices in Pioneer Square. Each department has had a hand in creating moments for Nathan and his family. The walls are covered in photos from the best on-field memories in the club’s history.
As they walked from one part of the office to another, they saw a unique photo hanging on the wall. It wasn’t of a trophy raise or an epic save or a goal celebration. Of the 20 or so photos that adorn the office, this one stood out from the rest.
Nathan was sitting with Clint Dempsey in the locker room.
Everything about the photo is perfect. Nathan is sitting in his green Sounders jersey, holding a soccer ball. He is looking at up Clint with an angelic gaze, and Clint is calmly and patiently sitting alongside him.
“I don’t think there are words to describe seeing an organization as big as this take a picture of your son and hang it on the wall,” Tara said. “To show how much he meant to everybody here, and that he is still remembered. As a mother, as a father, as a brother, you don’t want anybody to forget he lived.
“That’s the greatest thing – the Sounders are still remembering him. That means the world to me. His memory is going to live on. That’s the greatest thing. His journey is still going.”
Nathan’s story began with the Sounders four years ago, while watching the U.S. men’s national team on television during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. A young soccer player himself, Nathan was drawn to the star player named Clint, who shared the same name as his dad. When he found out Clint Dempsey was also from Texas, he was hooked. From that point on, Tara recalled, “It was Clint Dempsey everything.”
In Nathan's bedroom, Clint Dempsey covered the walls. | Courtesy of Tara Beatty
In August 2016, Nathan was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a rare and inoperable tumor in the brain stem. With a zero percent survival rate, Nathan was expected to die within a year.
The Beattys made sure it was going to be a year full of amazing experiences. What happened, though, was even beyond their biggest dreams.
One month after the diagnosis, Nathan and his family flew to Seattle so Nathan could fulfill his wish of seeing Clint Dempsey’s team, but Dempsey was sidelined for the remainder of the season with an irregular heartbeat and was not expected to be at the stadium.
While wearing his Dempsey jersey, Nathan was running on the field before the Sounders match when he answered a phone call from his hero. Moments later, Dempsey came out and surprised Nathan. They bonded immediately.
Clint gave Nathan another Dempsey jersey and cleats he wore at the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. After taking some shots on the field, Clint walked him into the locker room, hand-in-hand.
Nathan with his hero, Clint Dempsey, in the tunnel at CenturyLink Field. | Photo by Huy Nguyen
Nathan met Head Coach Brian Schmetzer, Román Torres, Nelson Valdez and the rest of the squad. After the match, which the Sounders won 1-0, he received Nicolás Lodeiro’s jersey, Stefan Frei’s gloves and a day full of unforgettable memories.
The relationship between Nathan, his family and the club didn’t end after just one match. They made the trip back to Seattle four weeks later and again the following month during the club’s improbable 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs run.
When Nathan first came to Seattle, the Sounders were in ninth place and on the verge of missing the playoffs. They went 5-1-1 to close the regular season, then surged through the postseason and won their first MLS Cup that December.
“We won MLS Cup the same year that this all started,” Clint Beatty recalled. “I don’t know if it’s the grace of God or just good timing or Nathan’s the lucky charm, it’s just neat to have that memory and to keep it going.”
Nathan watched the Sounders win MLS Cup 2016 from his home in Texas. | Courtesy of Tara Beatty
The following March, the Sounders opened the season in Houston, and Nathan and his family made the drive from Dallas to see Dempsey score a goal in his first game back following the heart scare. It ended up being the last match Nathan attended. He passed away on the Fourth of July.
Nathan’s story permeated into the Sounders community. As Schmetzer often states, “The club is the special relationship between the players and the fans.”
At times, it is the relationship among the fans, too.
Sara McNally, a Florida transplant who became part of the Sounders community in 2011, was particularly moved by Nathan’s story and followed along closely on social media. As an adoptive parent, McNally feels closely connected with parents who have struggles and sicknesses.
“For a little guy to love the Sounders and for the team to love him as much as they did, it touched me,” McNally said. “I loved seeing the way the club was taking care of him. For him to have that opportunity, that experience was really special.”
In the match immediately following Nathan’s death, McNally brought a two-pole banner that read, “Nathan Strong EBFG.”
When the Beattys returned to Seattle in August 2017 to spread some of Nathan’s ashes, McNally met up with Tara, Clint and Colin at a match against Minnesota United. With McNally’s banner hanging behind them, the Beattys watched Dempsey score the game-winning penalty kick in the match’s final moments.
“I like the relationship between the fans and the organization – it’s massive, it’s amazing,” Clint Beatty said. “It’s a tight community. The supporters, themselves – we met people, I had no idea who they were and I didn’t know they knew Nathan’s story or our story, holding signs up in the stands. It was unreal.”
Sara McNally and her husband, Brad, hold up the "Nathan Strong EBFG" sign they made for the Beattys. | Courtesy of Tara Beatty
Since Nathan’s passing, the Beattys have committed their lives to help increase funding for childhood cancer. According to Tara, childhood cancer research gets only four percent funding from the government, while adulthood cancers get the remaining 96 percent. For a terminal diagnosis such as DIPG, the lack of funding even worsens the pain.
“That’s our big thing now – we are pushing for more than four,” Tara said. “They definitely need more than four.”
Four percent funding. The fourth day of each month. Both statements carry so much sadness, grief and frustration.
On the day they saw Nathan’s photo hanging on the office wall, an unusually warm May afternoon in Seattle that provided glimpses of the sun-kissed summer ahead, the Beattys were at peace. Over 2,000 miles away from North Texas, they have found a second home in the club and community of a professional soccer team.
It was the fourth of the month, and despite all the emotional challenges that day held, Tara woke up thinking, “What a great place to be.”
“It’s one of the first times I haven’t cried – well, until I saw that photo on the wall of Nathan and Clint,” she said. “It’s the best way to spend a day and to be happy. You can’t help but be happy when you’re here.”