Reaching the highest echelons of international sports is a daunting task for any athlete, but for Team USA's goalkeeper Tim Howard, that climb to the top had a rare extra dimension: He has Tourette's syndrome.
Howard became a legitimate superstar on Tuesday, when he made a stunning 16 saves for the Americans against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup's knockout round. The astounding feat -- a World Cup record -- wasn't enough to save his team from losing 2-1 late in the match, but it was enough to drive fans to go so far as to anoint the 35-year-old as the unofficial Secretary of Defense on Wikipedia.
But many casual soccer fans don't know much about Howard's personal story, and that he copes daily with Tourette's. Diagnosed with the disorder while in the sixth grade in New Jersey, Howard actually turned to sports, including soccer, to help him cope with its effects, the New York Daily News reported.
As a goalkeeper, Tourette's -- which causes those who have it to exhibit various physical and vocal "tics" -- could have been a major problem. But Howard told Der Spiegel last year that it has never affected his ability to be an effective player and that "it won't" in the future either.
"I have dropped a number of balls during my career. But it has never been because of a tic," he told the German newspaper.
Though the syndrome doesn't often get much attention, a 2011 study found that between 0.4 percent and nearly 4 percent of youths may have some form of Tourette's. And many people learn to live with it, turning its peculiarities into little more than a part of their otherwise standard routines.
"It's something that I live with every day. For me now in my life, it's like breathing for me. If I woke up and didn't have Tourette's syndrome, it would feel weird -- not better or worse, just different. So I'm very happy and comfortable with it," he said, according to CNN.
Howard is by no means the only highly successful person or even professional athlete to have been diagnosed with Tourette's, but he's probably the best-known athelete with the condition. The goalie spent four years with Manchester United in the English Premier League before playing on loan and finally signing a contract with Everton in February 2007. Howard recently signed a two-year contract extension with Everton that will keep him playing after he turns 39, according to FoxSports. He has hinted that he will retire at the end of his new contract.
"I'll be on a beach somewhere when I'm 40," Howard told ESPNFC.com. "I would pretty much take it to the bank that I won't be playing past 40. There are other things I want to achieve in life, other things that I want to do."
Besides Howard, other atheletes who have managed successful careers despite Tourette's include former Major League Baseball player Jim Eisenreich and former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, according to Discovery's website. Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is believed to have had Tourette's, and actor Dan Akroyd, TV personality Howie Mandel and New York City Councliman Jumaane Williams have been diagnosed with the disorder.
While Tourette's is usually associated with outbursts or curse words, Howard told Yahoo Sports that his form of the condition doesn't manifest itself that way.
"You know, we don't all curse," he said. "I do on the field, unfortunately, to get my point across, but it's not because of my condition."