P.E.I.'s Cameron O'Hanley preparing to try out for national para soccer team

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P.E.I.'s Cameron O'Hanley preparing to try out for national para soccer team

After suffering a brain injury in a motor vehicle accident 3.5 years ago, Charlottetown's Cameron O'Hanley thought he'd never play soccer again.

But O'Hanley, now 20, has been invited to a one-day training session in Ontario in March to try to qualify for Canada's Para Soccer Team.

O'Hanley was scouted for the training day by national para team coach Drew Ferguson, who saw him play with the UPEI men's soccer team.

If he makes the national team, O'Hanley would be the first Islander to do so, according to Ferguson. He would also represent Canada at the 2017 World Championships in Argentina in September.

"It would mean everything," says O'Hanley. "Here I am about to have an opportunity to represent my country, which will be amazing."

Players required to undergo assessment

The para soccer team is made up of players who have had a stroke, brain injury or have cerebral palsy.

Prospective players are required to undergo an assessment to determine the severity of their impairment, which then places them in a classification that determines playing time or whether they make the team to ensure fair competition.

Soccer has long been a love of O'Hanley's. In 2013, he was getting ready to play for P.E.I. at the Canada Games in Sherbrooke, Que.

But prior to the start of the tournament, O'Hanley's life changed.

An accident that changed his life

On June 17, 2013, O'Hanley, then 17, had just finished Grade 11 final exams at Charlottetown Rural High School. It was the start of summer vacation. O'Hanley and a couple of friends left school and drove to Subway in Stratford near the Hillsborough Bridge.

As they were turning into Subway, a dump truck crashed into the back of their car. O'Hanley was sitting in the back seat.

His friends walked away from the crash, said O'Hanley, but he wasn't as fortunate. He had to be airlifted to Halifax on life support for treatment.

'The new normal'

O'Hanley spent the following two weeks in a coma, then two months in a wheelchair and two years in intensive rehabilitation for a brain injury at the Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute of Ontario in Etobicoke, Ont.

"It's hard to even remember what I was like before my accident because this injury has consumed my life for the last 3.5 years.… It has become the new normal for me," he said.

During rehabilitation in Ontario, O'Hanley also completed Grade 12. He returned to the Island in May 2015 and decided to give Holland College's Open Academic Studies program a try.

He also stepped back onto a soccer field at the request of Holland College's head coach Jonathan Vos, who knew O'Hanley from the Canada Games team. 

Back in the game

"I said 'sure.'  What have I got to lose? Maybe I'll end up liking it again because, at that point, I did not like soccer. It brought back old memories of how good I used to be."

O'Hanley said his spirits were lifted because he was back on the soccer field and part of a team again. His interest in the sport was also reignited.

When O'Hanley transferred to UPEI, he started practising with the men's team there. He doesn't play in games, but he does play with a winter recreation league.

UPEI's head coach Lewis Page also knows O'Hanley from the provincial teams he played with in high school. Page has noticed changes in O'Hanley's game since the accident. For example, he said O'Hanley doesn't have the quick turns he used to have.

But what hasn't changed is O'Hanley's on-field awareness, work ethic and "tremendous heart."

"Just that desire to work and to improve and to get better every day. That was a strength of his before the accident and certainly the accident hasn't taken that away from him. You know, I can't say enough about the character of him as a person."

O'Hanley noted there have been good and bad days, but the key is to stay focused on your goals.

"I'm still nowhere near where I want to be but I'm getting closer and closer each day," he said.

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