Student-athletes face grueling challenges throughout their careers. From juggling a social life, schoolwork and sports to playing multiple games in such a small window, student-athletes are some of the hardest working people on campus.
Unfortunately, there are times where student-athletes are forced to overcome an obstacle they never wanted to deal with: an injury.
Coastal Carolina men’s soccer forward Steven Riad knows that word all too well. Riad, originally from Egypt, has faced three injuries that could have ruined his career and forced him to stop playing the beautiful game of soccer.
Before all of this, Riad was just a kid from Egypt. He talked about growing up overseas and how living in Egypt inspired him to chase his dreams.
“Coming from a third world country, you don’t have much else,” said Riad. “All you can do is dream and chase that dream. My dad was a professional soccer player in Egypt so that kind got my love for the game started. Since then, my passion for it has grown so much and that is all I want to do.”
In order to give their children a better life, Riad’s parents moved to the United States and settled in Bethlehem, Pa. Riad attended Freedom High School where he played soccer there for the school. Riad also played for Lehigh Valley United, the Premier Developmental League (PDL) team in the area.
Riad said that that experience at a young age really allowed him to gain an understanding what it was like to play at a collegiate level while at such a young age.
“When you’re playing in the PDL, you are going up against some of the top college recruits in the country,” said Riad. “You’re also going up against guys that are on the verge of going to the USL or MLS so that experience really helped me prepare for a future in soccer.”
When he was 15, Riad was playing in a game for his high school when he suffered his first injury.
“It was a bad day,” said Riad. “I was slide tackled from behind and was hit on the outside of knee. I broke my fibula in three places, tore my ACL, meniscus, the whole mess.”
Doctors believed that Riad was too young for the surgery to repair his knee and that having the surgery would stunt his growth. The doctor gave Riad a tough decision to make.
“I was told that I could wait a couple years until I am done growing, have the surgery but I’d never be able to play soccer again,” said Riad. “That is what the doctor preferred me to do. The other option was to have surgery.”
According to the doctor, the surgery was not a 100 percent guarantee. However, there was a very small chance that Riad could be able to return to the field.
“It was the slightest of chances,” said Riad. “It could stunt my growth and there were so many things that could go wrong. I remember my dad and I sitting in the doctor’s office, both of us were in tears. At 15 years old, you shouldn’t have to make a decision like this.”
Riad talked about how his family, especially his father, helped him through this ordeal.
“My father had a knee injury end his soccer career,” said Riad. “It was a very emotional decision. I look up to my dad. He’s my role model. He’s my hero. He just looked at me and said that this decision was on me.”
Riad went ahead and had the surgery based on the fact that there was the slightest of chances that he could return to the pitch. The surgery did come at a price though. While Riad was not considering playing college soccer at the time, he was getting looks at some clubs over in Europe.
Teams like AC Milan, an 18-time champion of Serie A (the top division in Italian Football) and seven-time Champions League winners, were looking at Riad and had come over to the United States to scout him.
“When that injury happened, those offers disappeared,” said Riad. “The recovery took 18 months and it was nearly three years before I could fully play. That means no brace, practice all week and no limited minutes.”
Riad also talked about what it was like just touching a soccer ball for the first time since the surgery.
“It was so emotional,” said Riad. “I had a mini ball with me while I recovered. Putting on cleats and going out there for the first time was just overwhelming but it reassured me that this is what I wanted to do with my life.”
While college soccer wasn’t originally a part of the plan, Riad felt that for him to make it professionally, he had to go and play soccer at the collegiate level. Riad played at Lycoming College, an NCAA Division III program, during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. He was getting looks from other colleges during his time there but his coaches told him to wait.
“They told me that other offers were coming,” said Riad. “The big schools were going to be giving me offers soon.”
That was when it happened. Again.
Riad tore his ACL in his left knee. In less than four years, Riad had broken his right leg and torn both ACLs. With all offers essentially disappearing once again, Riad kept pushing. It was another six months of physical therapy and an extra three months before playing in another game.
Riad opened up about what it was like going through this struggle once again.
“At a certain point, you start to lose hope,” said Riad. “You feel like that there is no way you’re going to make it.”
That was when things changed. Despite all that Riad been through, there was yet another chance being given to him. And it came through Coastal Carolina University.
“I was playing in the PDL and that was when Coach Russell came and saw me play,” said Riad. “Not a short time after that, I was being offered to play at Coastal. In that moment, I felt that God was rewarding me for all the hard work and for never giving up, never surrendering in my struggle.”
Riad has appeared in four games this season, registering two shots.
Riad talked about what it is like to finally reach that level of Division I soccer and has a message for those dealing with the same type of struggle.
“I go out there and play every game like it is my last,” said Riad. “I don’t want to be remembered as scared or afraid. I want to be remembered for doing my best and never giving up. Never let anyone put their limitations on you. They are not you. The doctor told me I could never play again. Well, that doctor doesn’t know me. No matter what you are facing, have faith and stick with what you love.”
Obstacles are a part of life. They come at us whether we expect them or not. Even if we anticipate them, obstacles can throw us deep off the path to success. Regardless of if we anticipate obstacles or if they come at us out of the blue, it is how we respond to them that shows us our true character and forces us to see how much we are willing to endure to follow our dreams and be successful in this world.