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Homeless to the pros: A Madison soccer player’s journey

MADISON (WKOW) — The first team roster in Forward Madison FC history includes players from all over the world. It also features Vital Nizigiyimana, despite the long odds he faced to arrive on this stage.

“Every day I think about it,” Nizigiyimana reflects on his story. “And it’s crazy.”

Nizigiyimana’s story starts in Tanzania where he was born and lived until the age of 8 before moving to Atlanta. After high school, he thought he had landed an opportunity to play soccer in Mexico until a paperwork mishap got in the way.

“The lady called the Mexico immigration place to see if my travel document could allow me to go, and they said I was missing something else. I forgot what the paper was called. I just forgot about it.”

Nizigiyimana thought his soccer career was over. However, his second chance came via a family friend who had moved to Madison and invited him to come enroll at Madison College. He played one season for the WolfPack before dropping out of school.

With his teenage brother now living with him, Nizigiyimana moved around. The 22-year-old lived with friends and eventually was living out of hotels.

“I liked the ones that had like breakfast. So, those were the ones I looked to go to.”

Working two jobs, Nizigiyimana made just enough to pay daily for the hotels. However, that all changed when the CrossFit Games arrived last August.

“All the rooms were booked. They even booked our room. We paid every day. When I went to pay the next day, it was already booked.”

Just like that, Nizigiyimana and his brother were homeless. After searching without success for a place to sleep, Nizigiyimana and his brother went to local homeless shelters.

“There’s bunks. Somebody sleeps under you. My bunk was up top though,” he reflects while standing outside of the downtown shelter he stayed in.

Nizigiyimana spent about two weeks in the shelter. It was not a long period of time, but long enough for him to know he never wanted to go back.

“I wasn’t showering too. I wouldn’t want to go back in there.”

Eventually, Nizigiyimana and his brother saved up enough money to rent an apartment. With a roof over his head, Nizigiyimana turned his attention back to soccer. He had heard about Madison’s new pro team but didn’t fill out the application paperwork for a try out in time because he could not afford the application fee.

“I waited and once I got paid, I think it was on a Friday, I showed up in the office.”

Forward Madison FC Head Coach Daryl Shore recalls meeting Nizigiyimana in the offices for the first time.

“He showed up and said, ‘I know I’ve missed the deadline but please let me try out. I’m a local.’ We weren’t going to turn anybody away. It was one of those where we said, ‘You know what, let’s give the kid a chance. We’re probably going to cut him after a couple of hours and at least he’ll feel good about himself.'”

There was just one problem with that prediction.

“He showed up and did the business. He was the best player in the open tryouts. So, we invited him in to the invite tryouts, and he was one of the top players on that team as well.”

A few weeks later, Shore brought Nizigiyimana back into the office and offered him a spot on the team. He made Nizigiyimana promise he would return to school as part of the deal.

In the span of just a few short months, Nizigiyimana went from homeless to a professional athlete.

“Still not that long ago. Every time I think about it, I get a chill. I’m like, ‘Damn. I can’t believe I’m right here now.’ That’s why I’m saying I’m beginning my career now. It feels good.”

Lance Veeser

Sports Director, 27 News

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