I'm Betting on Me

By CC Uche

The odds are in my favor.

Even when the odds seem stacked against me. When others didn’t believe. When I didn’t believe. The odds are in my favor. It has been proven over and over again throughout my soccer career.

Soccer and I met later than most. I played basketball throughout grade school. Then, heading into my freshman year of high school, my teammates came back from summer really tall. Mind you, I am 6-foot-1 and they were towering over me. Combine my “shorter” stature with the fact I couldn’t shoot that well, I decided to take my athletic career in a different direction.

Enter soccer.

Despite my inexperience, I somehow made my high school junior varsity team but I wanted more. I worked hard and tried out the next year—hoping, wishing, praying—to make varsity. I didn’t. In fact, my coach told me I had “the touch of a dinosaur.” Ouch.

Some would have settled for making the JV team and try for varsity the next year, however that wasn’t an option for me. I decided to try out for club soccer, despite those around me saying I would never make it. But I did. Now don’t get me wrong: it was tough! The guys around me were absolute beasts who trained their entire life to get to this position, but I kept at it. I trained. I learned the game. I gave it my all.

A little over a year after not making my high school varsity team, I was in California playing with Georgia United in the U.S. Development Academy Playoffs. I started in 15 of 18 games that season and our defense allowed the third-fewest goals in the conference.

I put in the work. I was committed. I put together a plan. People like my club mentor believed in me. I took a chance on myself and look where it got me. I bet on myself. I had zero offers to play college soccer going into that tournament; at the end of my search, I had over 20.

Fast forward to fall 2019 and I’m with the Ohio State men’s soccer program. I’m coming off one of the best summers of my career, playing with the New York Red Bulls U23 team. I was being careful early in the season because of some tightness in my leg but was able to play. During a Friday game of a tournament, I went up for a header and got clipped from underneath in the exact spot I had been nursing. What are the odds? I went down, but adrenaline took over and I finished the game playing better than I did before getting hit.

The following Sunday, my world turned upside down. We had a corner kick in the first five minutes of the game. On these types of plays, I’m usually a target guy to head it in so I’m never at the top of the box. But for some odd reason, I end up at the top of the box in this particular play. I went to strike the ball and I hear a loud pop. I somehow jogged back to get in position after that play but something wasn’t right. Our goalkeeper passes me the ball and I go to pass it and I just collapse. It was the weirdest feeling. At that moment, all the hard work I put in throughout my career and all the hope I had about this being my senior season came rushing through my mind. Something had gone wrong.

I’m a naturally optimistic person so even heading into the doctor’s office to find out what’s going on, I’m laughing and joking around. In his office, he tells me what happened and my heart dropped. I tore rectus femoris. I told him he didn’t know what he was talking about and stormed out of his office. Well, I stormed out in the best way I could in my injured condition.

Once I calmed down, my surgeon gave me two options: six weeks and return at 85 percent, or surgery and be at 100 percent but miss the rest of the season. Obviously my first thought: my 85 percent is better than a lot of people’s 100! But after talking with my parents and trainer Pat Brayfield (who I consider my role model and a big influence on my journey), I decided on surgery.

It was one of the toughest times in my life. So many ups and downs; a lot of downs though. The one thing I thought defined me was taken away. Not being able to do things on my own and needing people to help me with basically everything was the hardest. There was a point in my recovery where I was in my room for two weeks straight. My roommate at the time, Austin Mack, had had enough. He kicks open my door and yells, “remember this?!”

“This” was me busting into his room almost exactly a year prior, and forcing him up and out after he was down with an injury. Now, the tables have turned and I realize how incredibly maddening, but overwhelmingly necessary, that kind of care is when you’re in a really dark place. That night, hanging with some of my best friends, re-energized me to move forward and keep going.

I was determined to get back better than I was before, so I sat down with my trainers, nutritionists and strength coaches to set out a plan. I did research from my bed on what muscles I can work on to get stronger and what foods I could eat for muscle regeneration. I put in the work. I was committed. I put together a plan. People like Pat believed in me. I took a chance on myself. By the end of my recovery, my injured leg was better than my uninjured one.

Obviously, it sucks getting hurt yet at the same time, it’s the best thing that’s happened to me in my career. It was like God said, “let’s slow down. Let’s press pause. You need to do some other things before you leave.” I realized I’m so much more than my sport, and that I could have a positive impact in my team, community and others around me. I had some great experiences being involved with Redefining Athletic Standards (RAS), a student organization aimed at building up black male student athletes at the university. I learned how to be a better teammate from the sidelines. At the encouragement of another mentor (Prince Moody), I took a chance on another dream of mine and earned a scholarship to the Parsons School of Design certificate program.

I learned I can use my influence, my voice or whatever platform I have to make an impact. All of this has change my entire mindset and makes me a better player and person overall.

When the fall season was canceled, I just laughed, looked up and asked, “You really can’t give me a break, huh?” I’ve hit a ton of adversity throughout my career: transferring to Ohio State from Duke, adjusting to my new surroundings, a coaching change, getting injured, and now COVID cancelling everything. It sucks but it’s in the moments of setbacks and adversity you grow the most. I know there’s something bigger on the other side.

The next chance I’m taking is on my professional career. It was a hard decision to forgo whatever senior season I could’ve had come spring but I need to reach for this dream of mine. I know I can.

I’m putting in the work. I’m committed. I’m planning. People believe in me. I’ve placed my bet and taking a chance on me.

Ohio State Buckeyes Chinenye Chidera (CC) Uche