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Q&A with Cameron O'Hanley

Charlottetown native to play for  Canadian Para soccer squad at world championship in Argentina


Published on August 25, 2017

Cameron O'Hanley, centre, watches as the UPEI Panthers go through a drill Friday in Charlottetown.

©Jason Malloy/The Guardian

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Dump trucks and cars don't mix.

Just ask Sherwood's Cameron O'Hanley.

A dump truck smacked into his car in 2013, and put the now-21-year-old into a two-week coma, then a wheelchair for two months and in a hospital setting for two years. It also left him with a traumatic brain injury, resulting in nearly continuous headaches, and sometimes debilitating ones, and memory problems.

Despite all that, O'Hanley just made the 14-man Canadian Para soccer squad for the 2017 IFCPF world championships in Argentina from Sept. 4 to 24. The Canadian squad is made up of athletes who have cerebral palsy, or have had a stroke or brain injury.

A soccer player since 2001, O'Hanley made Team Atlantic in 2011 and 2012, then the 2013 P.E.I. Canada Games men's soccer team before the accident. After it, and after recovering his mobility, Holland College men's head soccer coach Jonathan Vos coaxed him out for a kick-around, and it brought out O'Hanley's love of the game.

In 2016, he moved on from practising with Holland College to training with the UPEI Panthers' men's team.

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Cameron O’Hanley surprised his teammates after the Canada Games soccer team arrived home Sunday around noon from Sherbrooke, Que. O’Hanley is surrounded by his teammates at the Charlottetown Airport.
 
Guardian Photo By Jason Malloy

RELATED: O'Hanley surprise 2013 Canada Games team at airport.
A few connections later (UPEI men's head coach Lewis Page contacted the national Para soccer head coach Drew Ferguson) and O'Hanley tried out for the national team in February. He impressed and got his first action in a friendly match in July in Florida.
The Guardian caught up with O'Hanley for a Q&A about making the team, his injury and the worlds in Argentina.
Canada is in a group with Brazil, Republic of Ireland and Spain. The Canucks finished 10th in 2015, 12th in 2011, ninth in 2009, 12th in 2007, and 11th in 2005.

The Guardian - When did you find out you made the team and what does it mean to you?

O'Hanley - I found out I made the team in the middle of June. And it felt really surreal, like it's been a dream for me all my life, and I never really thought it was possible to make a national team being from such a small place like P.E.I. It's all just starting to really sink in as of my latest camp in August. I wasn't confident in my abilities at all until this camp. Not confident enough to play at a national level.

The Guardian - Can you describe your level of disability?

O'Hanley - I honestly can't describe my disability because I don't see it as one. It was honestly the biggest blessing in disguise I could have asked for. Yes, I probably have the biggest support system with people from every walk of life just playing their role in helping me become the best possible human I can become. And I believe it's about what you do to bring value to others lives is where you find true happiness. I have found techniques and strategies to deal with the cards I was given, and I'm not taking this life for granted like I used to.

The Guardian - What prompted you to reach for the national and now international level in the sport?

O'Hanley - I honestly was not prompted at all. I had no idea I would ever even play soccer again until Jonathan Vos at Holland College, who coached me for the 2013 Canada Games, asked me to kick the ball with the boys on the Holland College team (in 2015). I, being very tentative, said yes. All soccer was to me back then was an outlet for how good I used to be, and it brought back really good yet painful memories. Painful because I thought I would never even have come close to being as successful of a soccer player as I was before my accident. And as of these last few months, I truly believe we were meant to be T-boned by that dump truck, and I was supposed to be the only one hurt in the accident. I'm glad I was the only one hurt, and I always joked around with my friends well after the accident, saying 'Good thing I was the only one hurt, you guys would not be able to handle it.'

The Guardian - What did you think of Para soccer when you first tried it, and how does it differ from traditional soccer?

O'Hanley - That's a hard question because we have only practised and played a couple of official friendlies against a higher-ranked United States team. Canada is 10th and America is sixth. I've never played in a competition before these world championships. Para soccer differs from traditional soccer in that everything is smaller. The field is roughly three-quarters of the size (of a regulation field), the nets are smaller, there are seven players on the field on each team as opposed to 11. The players are varied a lot more in skill level. Some players are very, very good, they don't appear to have a disability.

The Guardian - What are your thoughts about playing in Argentina in September?

O'Hanley - I've never felt more ready for an athletic event in my life. No exaggeration. I have always been athletic and into sports, but I have never committed to something this fully in my life. I'm physically ready, even though there are always things to be worked on, and I will never stop improving. I am mentally in the best headspace I have ever been in. I really want P.E.I. to get behind me on these games and cheer on the only Island soccer player to play on a men's national team. I'm kind of living in a dream world, and I want to motivate and inspire absolutely everyone if I can and leading by example by helping team Canada win as many games as possible.