Mia Hamm Remembers Late Brother Garrett While Raising Awareness About Graft-Versus-Host Disease (Exclusive)

“He was one of those guys that could connect with everyone,” the soccer hall of famer tells PEOPLE

<p>Ethan Mito/Getty Images for USOPC</p> Mia Hamm

Ethan Mito/Getty Images for USOPC

Mia Hamm

Twenty-six years after her brother Garrett’s unexpected death from complications from a bone marrow transplant, U.S. soccer icon Mia Hamm is continuing to speak out about the lesser-known Graft-Versus-Host Disease as she honors her beloved brother’s memory.

“He was funny,” Hamm, 51, tells PEOPLE with a smile as she remembers her late brother. “He just had a dry sense of humor. Even when he was at his sickest moments, he was able to make us laugh.”

Garrett Hamm died in 1997 when he was 28 years old.

And although Hamm, who was 25 at the time, already had her first World Cup win and an Olympic gold medal under her belt, she still maintains Garrett was the best athlete in the Hamm family.

“You should have seen my brother,” Hamm says. “He was the perfect height for everything, 6’ 3”, so he was the quarterback of the football team, the point guard on the basketball team. The playmaker and the goalscorer on the soccer team, just fast and quick, you know? And he was really cool to be around. I think he was one of those guys that could connect with everyone. He didn't say a lot, but when he did, it usually was either funny or impactful.”

Garrett died from complications following a bone marrow transplant his family hoped could help cure aplastic anemia, a rare bone marrow disease he was battling at the time.

“Graft-Versus-Host Disease is different in that it's basically the donor cells attacking the recipient’s organs and tissues,” Hamm explains. “With other transplants, it's usually the body rejecting the transplant, but this is the opposite. It's actually the transplanted cells attacking the host.”

Related: 10 of the Greatest Moments in Women's Sports History

<p>John Biever/Icon Sportswire via Getty</p> Mia Hamm

John Biever/Icon Sportswire via Getty

Mia Hamm

Two years after Garrett died, she started the Mia Hamm Foundation which “celebrates the lives of bone marrow recipients and raises awareness about the need for more bone marrow donor volunteers,” she says. There are “so many more resources” now than there were 25 years ago, Hamm says, but the need to raise awareness is still very real.

Hamm has continued to honor her late brother in personal ways: She and husband Nomar Garciaparra named their son Garrett after him after asking her late brother’s son Dylan for his blessing.

“That’s the way it should be,” Dylan, about to now turn 28 himself, told his superstar aunt of passing on his dad's name.

In many ways, Hamm says her son Garrett reminds her of her brother. “He’s just as funny,” she laughs.

Related: Mia Hamm Praises Natalie Portman and Jennifer Garner for Their 'Tremendous' Support of Angel City FC

<p>Tullio M. Puglia/Getty </p> Nomar Garciaparra and Mia Hamm

Tullio M. Puglia/Getty

Nomar Garciaparra and Mia Hamm

Hamm says her and Garciaparra’s twin girls Grace Isabella and Ava Caroline, 16, and son Garrett, 11, are currently “adjusting” back to school after a relaxing summer filled with lacrosse, art, and of course, lots of video games. “Everyone’s good,” Hamm happily reports. “And Nomar’s working with the [Los Angeles] Dodgers, which he loves.”

As for herself, the Angel City FC investor says she’s been enjoying cooking, golfing, and skiing from time to time, dabbling in new hobbies as they come. Some stick, and some don’t. (During the stir-crazy days of the pandemic Hamm took up playing the ukulele, but if you ask her how that’s been going recently, the National Soccer Hall of Famer shakes her head, laughs and looks away.)

Related: Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra's twin secret: Teamwork

Hamm recently returned to the United States after traveling to New Zealand and Australia for the Women’s World Cup. Hamm has no interest in becoming the USWNT’s next head coach, she says with a laugh, but remains close with many of the team’s players. “Whether we know each other through having the same representative or if I’m texting them encouragement, I want to see them win and be successful,” she says.

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In the coming months, Hamm will be focused on the National Women’s Soccer League, where her Angel City FC team is vying for a playoff spot in the season’s final months.

Of course with Garrett on her mind, Hamm has also deep in her work with the Mia Hamm Foundation.

“It’s grown tremendously,” she says. “I didn't do it alone, though. I had a lot of people in my corner. My teammates have been incredibly supportive, and we want to encourage all those going through their own BMT journey and dealing with Graft-Versus-Host Disease that we are in your corner too. We are your fans and we’re cheering you on.”

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