By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
Liam Finn tossed an arm around Mabeth Diaz’s shoulders as the senior soccer players took the field for one of their last regular-season games as Jesuit College Preparatory School students.
They matched strides, their smiles mirroring one another as Finn, a forward, and Diaz, an attacking midfielder, prepared for pregame warm-ups.
In the rapid flux of racing legs, it was hard to detect much difference between Diaz and his teammates on Jesuit’s Senior Night at Postell Stadium on March 1.
And it was difficult to tell, for anyone who didn’t know, that Diaz had a prosthetic right leg below the knee.
Diaz, 17, suffered an injury to his right leg in an all-terrain vehicle accident in July 2010. The accident resulted in the amputation of the leg below the knee, after Diaz had undergone months of surgeries and treatments in an attempt to save his leg.
But regaining athletic skills represented just one facet of the faith and resolve that he demonstrated to his family, friends, teammates and teachers, they said.
Diaz, who started the game, scrambled with the best of them, went after the ball and played with intensity as the Rangers beat Irving Nimitz, 2-0.
Other than the No. 12 on his jersey, Diaz’s uniform differed from those of his teammates only in that he wore a “shrinker”—a supportive elastic stocking—under his socks and shin guards.
“He’s earned his spot on the field by being a good player,” said Jesuit head soccer coach Charlie DeLong, who is in his 36th year as the Rangers’ coach and led the team to the 2010 University Interscholastic League Class 5A state championship. “He gets regular playing time. He embraces his experience and passes it on to other kids. Mabeth has an engaging personality, leadership qualities and he’s an inspiration.
“He just got on with life, saying, ‘I’m normal.’ The kids are impressed by that.”
Jesuit, with a record of 14-2-4 and undefeated in UIL District 9-6A as of March 14, is playoff-bound—continuing the Rangers’ streak of having made the playoffs every year since Jesuit became a UIL school in 2003.
Playing on such a distinguished varsity gives him great joy, Diaz said.
But his story transcends the pitch and parlance of soccer, because his faith and his family strengthen him off the field.
One of the biggest lifts of his life occurs when he spends time with his brother Nathaniel, 22, who has Down syndrome.
Diaz’s expression went from pleasant and studious to pure elation when Nathaniel took his spot on the sideline by his parents before the Senior Night pre-game ceremonies.
“Nathaniel always brings a smile,” Diaz said. “He just cracks me up. He’s inspiring, just by being himself.”
A fleeting look of alarm crossed Diaz’s face as he recalled going to pick up Nathaniel at the restaurant where he works as part of the Notre Dame School of Dallas’ vocation program for students and young people with developmental challenges.
“I couldn’t find him,” Diaz said. “But then there he was with the other employees in a break room, laughing and talking with them, and having a soda.”
Diaz smiled then, at the thought of Nathaniel with his co-workers, and at how much it meant to belong, to be accepted and valued.
Their father, John, said that Nathaniel and youngest son Dorian, 8, will profoundly miss their brother when Diaz leaves Dallas in the fall for Creighton University, a Jesuit college in Nebraska. Diaz plans to become a doctor.
“He is everything—like a hero—for his brothers,” John said. “He does a lot for them and with them. His brothers want to be like him. When Mabeth goes to college, it’s going to be hard for the kids.”
John said that Diaz heartened the family with his courage following the ATV accident.
“He handled it in a strong way,” John said. “He was fighting and fighting to save his leg as the doctors tried to save it. When they said it had to be amputated, he said, ‘Dad, I’m ready. God is up there. He knows why this happened.’
“Mabeth is a very positive kid with a good attitude to move forward in life.”
St. Monica Catholic School, where Diaz was a student, and St. Monica Catholic Church parishioners raised money to help with his medical expenses and tutored him in his school subjects. The community prayed the rosary for his recovery, which Diaz said remains an unforgettable gesture of faith and generosity.
Diaz’s generosity deeply impressed Jesuit history teacher Katie Segal.
“The thing that I appreciate is that Mabeth has an unwavering commitment to social justice,” she said. “He’s always looking for ways to help others. Given his older brother’s situation and what happened to Mabeth’s leg, he’s wise beyond his years. He never complains, no matter what.”
Segal said that Diaz embodies volunteerism, citing examples including his work to help single, expectant mothers who were spending their pregnancy at a shelter.
“He helped them with things that required physical labor—building baby beds and working on the grounds,” she said. “He was eager to help and hear the women as they talked to us about their circumstances. He’s so compassionate and caring. I think he’ll make an excellent doctor.”
Diaz said that he grew interested in studying medicine while he was recovering from the ATV accident.
“It feels incredibly long ago,” he said. “Through soccer, I’ve been able to adapt to my prosthesis really well. At first, it was quite a shock for everyone for me to be out there. In my freshman year, I could see the look of confusion on opponents’ faces. People wondered if it was a knee brace or a prosthesis.
“By my sophomore year, they said, ‘We have so much respect for you.’ ”
He said that he experiences some soreness after some games, but nothing more than any athlete might expect to feel.
Jesuit senior Adam Garcia, Diaz’s soccer teammate and a close friend since both were students at St. Monica, said that Diaz never contemplated failure in any context.
“He’s very disciplined and hard-working, on and off the field,” Garcia said. “He’s also a really great guy who shows no negativity. I remember during a practice when we were freshmen, and he was running toward the ball when his leg fell off. For a second or so, no one knew what to do. Then Mabeth started laughing, and then when he was laughing, everyone started laughing along with him. Everyone is supportive.”
Diaz said that he will miss Jesuit, but feels that it prepared him well to pursue his goals.
“I’ve loved every single moment at Jesuit,” Diaz said. “It’s been such a gift. Every moment has been a blessing. It’s going to hurt to say goodbye to these years. But it’s time for a new chapter.”