Eli Wolff Cause of Death: How the Paralympian and Disability Sport Advocate Left a Lasting Legacy

Eli Wolff, a former Paralympian and a prominent advocate for disability sport, passed away on April 4, 2023, at the age of 45. His cause of death was cardiac arrest, according to his family. Wolff was a pioneer in the field of disability sport, both as an athlete and as a leader. He played for the U.S. Men’s Cerebral Palsy National Team for 10 years, representing the country at two Paralympic Games and a World Cup. He also dedicated his post-playing career to promoting inclusion and human rights in sport, co-founding several organizations and initiatives that aimed to empower athletes with disabilities.

A Passion for Soccer

Wolff was born with cerebral palsy, a condition that affects movement and coordination. He had a stroke when he was two years old, which left him with weakness on his right side. Despite his disability, he developed a passion for soccer at a young age and joined a local club team in Rhode Island. He soon discovered that there was a national team for players with cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders, and he tried out for it in 1995. He made the cut and became one of the youngest players on the team at 17.

Wolff played for the U.S. Men’s Cerebral Palsy National Team from 1995 to 2004, earning 54 caps and scoring four goals. He participated in two Paralympic Games (Atlanta 1996 and Athens 2004), one World Cup (Brazil 1998), and three ParaPan American Games (Argentina 1995, Mexico 1999, and Argentina 2003). He was known for his versatility, playing as a defender, midfielder, and forward. He was also known for his leadership, serving as the team captain and the player representative.

Wolff retired from playing in 2004, after the Athens Paralympics. He said that he wanted to focus on his education and his advocacy work. He graduated from Brown University in 2000 with a degree in sociology and later earned a master’s degree in sport management from the University of Connecticut in 2010.

A Vision for Inclusion

Wolff’s involvement in disability sport did not end with his playing career. He became a vocal advocate for inclusion and human rights in sport, working with various organizations and initiatives that aimed to create more opportunities and recognition for athletes with disabilities. He co-founded Disability in Sport International, Athletes for Human Rights, and the Olympism Project. He also worked with the Power of Sport Lab, the Inclusive Sports Initiative at the Institute for Human Centered Design, and several other groups that focused on inclusion and the unifying power of sport.

Wolff’s advocacy work had a significant impact on the field of disability sport. He helped to establish the ESPY Award for Best Male and Female Athlete with a Disability, which recognizes the achievements of Paralympic and adaptive athletes. He also worked to organize support for golfer Casey Martin in his U.S. Supreme Court case against the PGA, which granted him the right to use a golf cart during tournaments due to his leg disability. Moreover, he pushed for the inclusion of sport-related provisions in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is an international treaty that protects the rights of people with disabilities.

Wolff also served as an athlete representative on U.S. Soccer’s Disability Soccer Committee, where he advocated for more support and development for disability soccer programs in the country. He was also an instructor of sport management at the University of Connecticut, where he taught courses on disability sport, sport for development, and sport policy.

A Legacy of Inspiration

Wolff’s sudden death shocked and saddened many people in the soccer community and beyond. U.S. Soccer issued a statement expressing its condolences to Wolff’s family, friends, and colleagues. The statement also praised Wolff’s contributions to soccer and society as a whole:

“Eli was a tireless servant to the game over many decades, first as a pioneering member of the Men’s CP National Team, where he proudly represented the U.S. at the World Cup and two Paralympic Games, and then latterly as a voice of equality for all on multiple committees across the game,” said Stuart Sharp, Senior Director of Technical & Grassroots in U.S. Soccer’s Extended National Team Department. “Arguably, Eli made his most significant impact off the field, where he, through his tireless global advocacy work, aimed to provide everyone, no matter their background or ability, a place in sport that made them feel empowered and find joy. Everyone at U.S. Soccer has his family anchored in their thoughts, and we are sending an energy of strength in their direction.”

Many others also paid tribute to Wolff on social media, sharing their memories and appreciation of him. Some of his former teammates, coaches, and opponents expressed their admiration for his skills and spirit on the field. Some of his colleagues, students, and partners praised his vision and passion for inclusion and human rights in sport. Some of his friends and family described him as a kind, generous, and fun-loving person who touched many lives.

Wolff’s legacy will live on through his work and his example. He showed that disability is not a barrier to achieving one’s dreams and making a difference in the world. He also showed that sport can be a powerful tool for social change and empowerment. He inspired many people with his courage, determination, and optimism. He will be remembered as a Paralympian, an advocate, and a leader.

Doms Desk

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