Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Steve Zakuani knew his lifelong dream of becoming a soccer player was accomplished when the Sounders drafted him.
Zakuani, 24, spent the first part of his life in a small village in the Democratic Republic of Congo before eventually moving to England and eventually Seattle.
He spoke with nearly 200 Western students on Monday about the struggles he overcame on the way to fulfilling his goal of playing professional soccer.
Since the sounders were founded in 2009, Zakuani has remained a star midfielder, but he's most know for the devastating broken leg he sustained April of 2011.
At the age of 15, Zakuani injured his knee and foot in a Moped accident that doctors said might leave him unable to walk for the rest of his life.
What were the hardest parts of sustaining two injuries and how did you overcome them?
Whenever you suffer a serious injury that could be career-ending, you have to accept something like that. That’s what is most difficult. The first part of it is, ‘Could I ever play again?’ That to me isn’t that tough to overcome. The tougher part is,‘If I ever play again, will I return to my previous level?’ That’s harder. When I came back to practice, that was harder. When I came back to practice with the team, my mind could still do everything but my body just couldn’t. The toughest mental challenge was staying positive, while my body began to catch up.
How did the doctors telling you the injuries were career-ending change your outlook on soccer, your career and your life?
The first time was tougher, because the second time I had already made it. I had already proven to myself I could make it. I already enjoyed success. If I never recovered again, it would be tough, but at least I knew what it was like. The injury as a teenager was tougher. I was still trying to get to the top of the mountain. If I had to stop then, especially because it was my fault that would be tougher.
What clubs told you that you would never play professionally?
There was about eight. One of them was called Queens Park Rangers. They’re struggling right now. I went to them in 2006 and they were like ‘no way’.
You said that you reached the top of the mountain, so what’s the new mountain in front of you?
To bring as many people to the top with me.
What piece of advice would you give young players?
There are two things, number one is, ‘listen to your coach.' They’ve been there, they see the game. My coach now, Sigi Schmid, coached for 30 years, I’m 24. I don’t know anything. Number two is, ‘you spend time on your own game.' Video games and stuff were a rarity for me. I was spending three or four times as much for my own practice than I did playing video games.