Sometimes a football is more than just a ball. Sometimes, it's a lifesaver.
Tim Jahnigen has always followed his heart, whether as a carpenter, a chef, a lyricist or now as an entrepreneur. So in 2006, when he saw a documentary about children in Darfur who found solace playing football with balls made out of garbage and string, he was inspired to do something about it.
The children, he learned, used trash because the balls donated by relief agencies and sporting goods companies quickly ripped or deflated on the rocky dirt that doubled as football fields. Kicking a ball around provided such joy in otherwise stressful and trying conditions that the children would play with practically anything that approximated a ball.
"The only thing that sustained these kids is play," said Jahnigen, of Berkeley, California. "Yet the millions of balls that are donated go flat within 24 hours."
During the next two years, Jahnigen, who also was working to develop an infrared medical technology, searched for something that could be made into a ball but never wear out, go flat or need a pump. Many engineers he spoke to were dubious of his project. But Jahnigen eventually discovered PopFoam, a type of hard foam made of ethylene-vinyl acetate, a class of material similar to that used in Crocs, the popular and durable sandals.
"It's changed my life," he said.
Figuring out how to shape PopFoam into a sphere, though, might cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and Jahnigen's money was tied up in his other business.
Then he happened to be having breakfast with Sting, a friend from his days in the music business. Jahnigen told him how football helped the children in Darfur cope with their troubles and his efforts to find an indestructible ball. Sting urged Jahnigen to drop everything and make the ball. Jahnigen said that developing the ball might cost as much as $300,000. Sting said he would pay for it.
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