SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Midfielder Ray Saari has become a fixture on the pitch for the Sacramento Republic FC, but his journey to Sacramento has come with its fair share of hurdles.

“It was the night of my sophomore year soccer banquet, halfway through they called and said we have a bed you need to come in now we went straight to the hospital and that’s when they told me my diagnosis,” Saari said. “ I was going through a bag or two of cough drops a day because I couldn’t even talk without coughing. After the season my mom was like ‘We should go to the doctor’s office just to get you checked out.’ When the x-ray came back, they found five or six tumors in my lungs.”

He was diagnosed with stage-four testicular cancer, requiring four rounds of chemotherapy over the next four months. A steep hill for the then 15-year-old.

“I never thought once, ‘does that mean I’m going to die?’ or anything like that,” Saari said. “It was more me just counting down the days till I could come back … I was trying to play as much as I could behind my parents’ back and everything while I was out, while I was in I would ride the bike to try and stay as fit as I could and just do something to take my mind off of not being able to play footy.”

Swipe through the renderings of the proposed new soccer stadium

The game was not just his escape, it was his motivation. Saari said his professional dreams were only amplified by his fight.

I grew to realize that the hope of something is more important than anything. My parents were very good at making me believe I could still achieve my goals, and I think that was the greatest driving factor in me getting to remission,” Saari said. 

Once he was cancer free, Saari was ready to overcome his next obstacle. Listed at 5 feet 6 inches tall, Saari is one of the smallest players in the USL.

“I didn’t go to a big school, I didn’t get drafted … all those sorts of things … I’ve been behind the ball before. So I think the things that I’ve been through help me, in a way, focus,” Saari said. 

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Head Coach Simon Elliot noted Saari’s ability to overcome challenges prepared him for the game.

“He’s the one that’s been through a very difficult off-the-field challenge he’s the one that’s come through the other side,” Simon said. “We always want guys that are up for the challenge.”

Saari is the embodiment of that sentiment. Tough-nosed and game-proven, the 24-year-old cherishes the opportunity to give back to those going through what he went through.

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“I’m very grateful that I play for a club that seeks out to do things like that for their fans, and I’m personally very happy that I’m the person that gets to do it,” Saari said. “Like I said, hope does a lot of things for especially little kids, that belief or that smile does a lot of different things for your body. We love our fans and we want to make sure that they’re a part of this.”