Real Salt Lake head athletic trainer Theron Enns watched from the sideline as forward Justin Meram jogged onto the field. It was the 78th minute of RSL’s win over the Colorado Rapids to open the MLS is Back Tournament, and Enns was anticipating seeing a name written on the back of Meram’s jersey.
As Enns waited for midfielder Albert Rusnák to come off, he caught a glimpse of what was written in black marker.
“It was kind of cool just to look down and see that name,” Enns said.
That name was Mary Gromly, mother of Enns’ wife, Marla.
April and May were difficult months for Enns’ family. Gromly contracted COVID-19 in April and after just a couple of weeks in the hospital, she died. She was just a few weeks away from her 90th birthday.
The very next month, Enns’ birthday passed. As did Gromly’s. Then came Mother’s Day, followed by the delivery of a small urn that held a portion of Gromly’s ashes.
“That was a bit of an emotion blow for my wife and I,” Enns said.
Enns and his wife couldn’t visit Gromly at the hospital in Colorado because it wasn’t allowed. Luckily, the nurses let Marla’s sister into the room on her mother’s final day, which enabled Enns and his wife to say their final goodbyes via FaceTime. There was no funeral.
RSL forward Justin Meram learned all of this while Enns treated him for a quad injury he suffered in a game against the New York Red Bulls. It was the last game before the coronavirus pandemic halted the Major League Soccer season.
Because RSL had a few players who needed in-person treatment to recover from injuries despite the lack of games, Enns assigned just one player to each member of his training staff. He got Meram.
The two got to know each other quite well during the hiatus. So when Enns told Meram about his mother-in-law’s death, it affected him on a deep level.
“It’s never easy when anybody passes away, especially during this time him or his wife couldn’t be there to see her for one last time,” Meram said. “You feel for someone who is there for all of us at any given time, any day of the week, any time, late night — whatever the case may be.”
That gave Meram an idea. He could take advantage of MLS allowing players to write something on back of their jersey for their opening games of the MLS is Back Tournament.
“I didn’t know really anybody personally that was affected, and I remember Theron opening up to me about it,” Meram said. “So I thought it could be a good touch to this moment and a way to recognize her and his family and his in-laws.”
Many players chose to write messages in reference to Black Lives Matter and other social justice causes. But Meram wanted to commemorate Gromly. So he sent a text message to Enns asking for his and his wife’s permission to do so.
They accepted. Meram also said he wanted Enns’ family to keep the jersey after the game.
“I was just blown away by that gesture,” Enns said. “Just humbled by it.”
Enns posted a photo of the jersey and posted it to his Twitter page. When his wife saw the photo herself, she “burst into tears,” Enns said.
Enns met his wife while he worked for the Rapids earlier in his career. They’ve been married 16 years. After a stop with the Houston Dynamo, he moved on to RSL.
Enns said Gromly used to tune in to Rapids games when they were playing Houston or Salt Lake in hopes of seeing Enns on TV. So for him, it was fitting that the day Meram had the opportunity to honor her was when RSL played the Rapids.
Enns doesn’t know what he’ll do with Meram’s jersey. He may add it to the small collection of jerseys he has of players with whom he’s worked throughout his career. The jersey also may go to his wife or her family, he said.
“It’s definitely a treasured memory right now,” Enns said.