Lance Armstrong first contacted Doug Ulman in the fall of 1997, when the professional cyclist heard through a friend that Ulman, a junior soccer standout at Brown University, was playing again after recovering from three bouts of cancer in a year.
Ulman, a Columbia native, was 19 when chondrosarcoma, a rare form of cartilage cancer that had attacked his ribs, was diagnosed. Over the next year, he underwent surgery to remove the malignancy from his chest and subsequently suffered from two cases of skin cancer.
Armstrong had been fighting testicular cancer since 1996, and he and Ulman began to correspond via e-mail. Two years later, Armstrong is the talk of the sports world after winning the Tour de France. He also serves on the advisory board of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, an organization Doug founded to assist young adults stricken with the disease.
Earlier in 1997, the foundation started the Ulman Cancer Fund Soccer Classic, a college all-star game that has raised more than $40,000 for cancer research and patient support. This year's game will take place Sunday at 1 p.m. at River Hill High School, and will feature some of the nation's finest college players and an appearance by U.S. women's national team captain Carla Overbeck.
"This game is not only a fund-raiser, it's an awareness piece and a great soccer game," said Ulman, who recently was awarded a grant to run the fund full time for the next two years. "I want people to enjoy the soccer and the atmosphere but learn a little bit about what we're about. It's a community event, and people realize while they are there that they are making a difference."
Ulman, a Centennial High graduate, and Armstrong have never met, but have remained in touch as they overcame their illnesses and returned to competition. Ulman helped Brown's men's varsity team to Ivy League championships and NCAA tournament berths in 1997 and 1998.
The inaugural all-star game included friends of Ulman's from Brown and other players who had heard about the event, including Ben Olsen of D.C. United, who Ulman said drove 4 1/2 hours to play. Now the game draws players from all over the country who are flown in by sponsors to participate -- if they are lucky enough to be selected from the dozens of athletes who apply.
Players in Sunday's match will include Steve Armstrong of Butler, who is considered a strong MLS prospect, U.S. under-18 national teamer Matt Laycock of North Carolina, Maryland goalkeeper Christian Lewis, rising Virginia star Drew O'Donnell and Brown standouts Anders Kelto and John Devine. Bill Stara of River Hill High and Matt Smith of Johns Hopkins will coach.
"The games have been real exciting," said Ulman, who played in the previous two but has ruled himself ineligible this year. "The guys are really into their preseason training at this point, and they like coming together for this and playing where there's no pressure and where there are other good players."