FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Kelyn Rowe has accomplished quite a lot by the age of 24. He's a starting midfielder for the New England Revolution, a perennial contender for the U.S. National Team's January camp, the 2011 Pac-12 Player of the Year while at UCLA and a former star of Washington's high school soccer scene.
Most would settle with that, but not Rowe, whose arguably most important descriptor bears roots far beyond the pitch. The Federal Way, Washington native is, by all accounts and measures, a humanitarian. He eagerly takes on community service opportunities, often visiting Boston Children's Hospital and providing kids fighting cancer with the "Never Ever Give Up" treatment through a partnership with the Jessie Rees Foundation.
But why does he extend his job beyond the bright lights of a Major League Soccer stadium? The answer, it turns out, is quite simple.
"I might as well be a positive in right now what's a not-so-positive world," Rowe said. "I want to be that light and this positive role model, because these kids are going to see what I tweet about, they're going to see what I do off the field and on the field. They're going to see all that stuff, so you might as well make it a positive."
Rowe with one of his NEGU crews. -- Photo courtesy of New England Revolution
Rowe wasn't always that way, though. His parents long instilled in him and his two sisters that being a good human being was as essential, if not more, than being a good athlete or student. Rowe freely admits, however, that he was cocky growing up. After all, he could practically do as he pleased with a soccer ball and hype swelled over what his career would entail.
Then Houston Kraft, a professional speaker, came around and sparked the benevolent personality that graces hospital wings time and time again.
"Houston turned me around and said, ‘You're going to be known, you're going to make it big at some point in your life. I believe in you, so make sure you're a positive for these little kids, because right now I'm not sure you are,'" Rowe recalled.
Now with the Revs' platform, Rowe has gone about changing the lives of New England's youth. Along with defender Darrius Barnes, he recently visited Boston Children's Hospital and recalls a 12-year-old girl named Jeni who was bedridden and "very, very sick."
When Rowe and Barnes came around, though, it was as if a different Jeni sprung to life.
"You could see the look on her face, you could see the look on her parent's faces, the joy and excitement, the pure happiness that she had when we walked through the door," Rowe said. "The look on their face, the tears in their eyes when they see her stand up and smile, that definitely chokes you up some."
Such experiences are common with the Jessie Rees Foundation, too, as Rowe spearheaded "Kelyn's NEGU Crew" back in 2014. The program gives childhood cancer patients a game day experience at Gillette Stadium, with Rowe providing a jersey and bringing their family around the field before a game. The idea, Rowe said, is he can't find a cure for cancer or shell out millions of dollars for research, but he can make a kid feel normal again by being outside the hospital.
That's exactly what happened with David, the first-ever member of "Kelyn's NEGU Crew."
"I saw David in the hospital two months beforehand and he was always talking about how he'd love to make it out to a game, but wasn't sure if he'd make it," Rowe said. "The fact he made it out to a game two months later and was able to walk on the field with me, it was breathtaking to be honest with you. That's what really jumped me and made me think, ‘I have to do more of these. It's something I really care about.'"
Such stories have certainly caught the eyes of Rowe's teammates and coaches, too. Barnes said he gets the sense Rowe genuinely cares about giving back to the community, that it couldn't be further from a gimmick or a front.
Rowe, along with Barnes, visits Boston Children's Hospital -- Photo courtesy of New England Revolution
"It's something that even as an older player, I look up to Kelyn doing all that he does, so hat off to him," the 29-year-old said. "As sports figures you want to be tied to the community, and the things he does with the Children's Hospital and all the kids are just fantastic. He's truly the same type of person on and off the field."
Jay Heaps, New England's head coach, echoed similar sentiments, noting he's seen his first ever draft pick blossom from a kid into a man.
"There's not one time you can say Kelyn didn't leave it all on the field," Heaps said. "I think that's how he lives his life. Doing those things off the field takes time, takes energy, takes something some guys can't do and don't have the energy to do, but Kelyn does. It says a lot about him as a person and a judge of character and moral compass. He's in the highest regard in my eyes."
Heaps' reckoning might just grow in the years to come, as Rowe plans to expand his community service work. He wants to partake in more events throughout New England's six states and expects a "Kelyn's NEGU Crew" shirt will debut in the next month or so.
And, if all that comes to fruition, perhaps more people will catch wave of what he's trying to accomplish, much like the fan who last year said, "I bought your jersey because of what you do in the community."
"For right now, it's keep doing what I'm doing, and the team as well, because we're doing good," Rowe said. "It's definitely working."