LONG HILL, N.J. (AP) — Sometimes, Nick Seyda can't help but look all the way back at how his life started.
Born severely premature, Seyda was given only a three percent chance of healthy survival. His lungs were severely underdeveloped. He had holes in his heart and spots on his brain.
Seyda wasn't expected to walk, talk, or even breathe on his own.
But Seyda began challenging the odds right from the start.
He not only survived, but caught up to his peers. He began playing baseball in Long Hill, then followed his older brothers, John and Jake Seyda, onto the soccer field.
Nick Seyda was invited to train in Argentina for a few weeks, and was part of a team heading to England for the summer. But four years ago, his knee started to hurt. An MRI showed darkness, and Seyda was diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans.
The bone in his knee had begun to die. It is a condition that affects approximately 0.5 percent of the population.
Soccer was out of the question, as were other impact sports, as Seyda's knee slowly began to absorb the dead portion and start to heal itself.
That's when Seyda discovered freestyle, thanks to the New York Red Bulls.
Their freestyle team performs outside the arena before matches, as well as during halftime. Seyda was mesmerized. And when one of the freestylers passed him the ball, he showed he already knew how to juggle.
"I didn't have time to get nervous," said Seyda, who at age 14 is the youngest member of the Red Bulls Freestyle Crew.
"Now, I understand the numbers. There's 10,000 people in the arena, or 100 people watching beforehand. ... I guess I had to show them I was just as good as all of them. I was able to perform in front of people and put on a show. They were very welcoming and wanted to help me. They saw I was in it for the love."
Added his mother, Shannon Seyda, "I'm convinced it's in his blood. Nick always, always has the ball. Even when he's brushing his teeth. It makes me crazy. He literally cannot leave it alone, ever."
Though freestyle and soccer are usually linked together, Seyda is quick to point out "it's a completely different sport."
There are four categories of freestyle tricks: sit-downs, blocks — with the ball between one's knees or ankles — uppers and lowers. Performers are judged on control, creativity, originality and musicality.
"Ninety-nine percent of freestyle is failing: dropping the ball, messing up on a trick, getting the technique wrong," Seyda said. "The time you do get it right is like no other. The time you spend losing adds to how great it feels when you land it."
An incoming freshman at Watchung Hills, Seyda won his first freestyle title at the Speen Cup on July 25.
He will make his third straight appearance at USA Freestyle Football Championships in Queens on Aug. 10. He also hopes to compete at SuperBall in Prague, Czech Republic, later this month.
Seyda qualified for individual battles at nationals two years ago and finished fifth. Last summer, he was one of two competitors to get a perfect score during the qualifying round despite recovering from severe malnutrition due to Crohn's disease.
Seyda finished third in his group at SuperBall last summer, and lost his first individual battle to the Danish champion.
He has consistently been the youngest competitor at both USA and SuperBall, going up against freestylers 10 and 15 years older.
"He's got high level technical skills," Global Freestyle CEO Danny McGhee said. "A lot of mature freestylers in their early 20s would struggle to perform the level of technique Nick would. He's very clean in the execution of his skills for his age. In the world of freestyle, there's a handful of kids as good as Nick is."
Information from: Daily Record (Parsippany, N.J.), http://www.dailyrecord.com