When Omar hears the stories of the children he works with in the Saved by Soccer program, he is truly amazed at how far some of them have come.
"In comparison, I had a beautiful childhood. Thank goodness, I didn't have such complicated situations as some of these kids," he said. Still, his passion for soccer and professional success allows him to connect with the participants in a meaningful way.
"I started playing soccer just by kicking a ball around in the street with my friends, using two stones for our goal posts. Then I was invited to go to a tryout for Club Monterrey, and I made the team and played for them when I was 12 to 14. When I was 15 years old, I was called to the Mexican national team and playing international matches, eliminatory matches, the World Cup —traveling all around the world with this team," he said.
Omar recognizes now that achieving those dizzying heights of success at such an early age could have been dangerous because he had to make adult decisions before he truly had the ability to do so, but he also realizes that life back home in the villages was just as dangerous.
"My career as a professional soccer player consumed practically all of my time, so it didn't allow any time for distractions that could have hurt me in childhood. Soccer completely changed my life, and I can't even imagine what life would have been like for me at that time had it not been for soccer," he said.
When he retired from his playing career, Omar became a coach for a Third Division professional team, as well as several youth teams. "Beyond just teaching my players the basic soccer skills, I also hope to teach them that you have to be disciplined to achieve success in soccer, just like success in life outside of sports. Soccer is a way of life for me, and it's a different way of living where you leave aside all the prejudices and temptations that could harm you," he said.
In his work with Saved by Soccer, Omar has seen many players rescued from a life on the streets. "We live in a corrupt society, but we have to go into those places that society thinks are ugly or bad or marginalized, and we have to turn it around. We have to help people rise above their circumstances, especially those circumstances, and soccer can help them do it," he said. "People need to know their lives have a purpose, and you can achieve that purpose just like I did!"
Learn more at savedbysoccer.com