Stratford Ontario became my home when my family and I relocated at a young age. I was always a pretty energetic child, so my mom decided to enroll me in a house league soccer or football, and I have loved the sports ever since. I didn't take sports seriously, until I met one friend in particular named Joey Lanza. He was so skillful and amazing with the ball (football or soccer ball) that, all I wanted was be as good as him. He was a year older than me, so I looked up to him a whole lot and we became best friends right away. One recollection of us was, we train everyday for hours at the YMCA until the janitor would kick us out at 11pm. During high school we would juggle his mini soccer ball down the hallway by our lockers and skip classes in the process. When I graduated from high school, I decided to relocate to England. Honestly, my mother did not take my intentions seriously until my travelling visa and my airline ticket was visible. In Europe, the love for soccer (or football as the rest of world call it) was taken serious and it felt like a religion. A few weeks into my trip I had met a guy named Dee Okojie, he had recently been released by Chelsea FC, one of the best teams in England. I had shared with him, why I was there and so we began training everyday together. I would honestly say, he was way better than me considering my level of skills. Sometimes I felt down especially being away from home. Many days, during our one and one battles I felt like quitting and walking away. Over time, my skills level began improving positively. However, few months into our friendship – I started encountering financial and boarding crisis! I remembered telling Dee my situation and that I had given my all and that it was not meant to be for me to in England any longer. And I would go back home to Canada to do something else. He told me without hesitation to move in with his family and that he would ask his mom. I thought he was crazy, but I thought why not? I met his mother, she was very kind and a single mom raising three boys on her own. She wanted to know how long I planned to stay. I told her I was not sure. After talking to her for an hour or so, I offered to pay for my boarding while I find a job. She quickly said no money exchange and mentioned that as long as I help around the house and be respectful of everyone and their space I can stay. All she wanted for me was to focus on my football! I lived with them for many years while I pursued my dream playing football. They became my second family and still are to this day. I love them and would do anything for them. Dee's mother taught me how to respect everyone and really made me a better man.
On a positive note and moving forward, I have had the opportunity playing professionally in Malta re: limited duration. That opportunity came with travel turmoils for me; one was traveling back to England and the other back to Malta (to sign another contract). My immigration pending case indicated I overstayed by a month while playing in Malta. Therefore, I was banned for 5 years from travelling all of Europe. I have had this since 2015 and it really messed my career as a professional plying my trade in any European country re: especially with teams wanting to sign me. I tried to appeal the decision, but it did not go smoothly. Most people back home (Ontario) thought I was back because I was not good enough to play in Europe. I wish that were true. Regardless of my set backs, I still remain positive and believe anything is possible with hard work. Momentarily (new contract) there is an opportunity in works for me and I train hard everyday in hopes that, the right person will see my skills. I have coached kids individually for many years on the side, teaching them the fundamentals of the game and hoping to teach them how to respect others and to work past their limits and to inspire them and be a great role model for them. I hope they see my desire re: not giving up. In hopes that it motivates them to chase their dreams as well. I get inspired everyday from different successful people hearing their stories and the obstacles they have overcome and I use the negativity that I have experienced along the way as to motivation tool during my training session.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your brand and how did you overcome them?
I have had so many set backs along the way, of becoming a professional athlete. I have had coaches and agents telling me I am too slow, too old, not strong enough, bad technique. I have had people make fun of me for training on my own and the fact that I make videos, even to this day.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
I have lost most of my friends along this journey because all I do is train and not many people have the same mindset as I do. I have an amazing family and girlfriend and a few close friends who have all believed in me since day one and that is all that matters to me the most and making them proud. My mother thought I was crazy at first, but she has witnessed the work I have put in for many years and now is one of my biggest fans.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started?
I have learned so much along this journey, I think the most important thing I have learned is just being kind to others and not worrying so much about what others think of me. It used to bother me so much why some people disliked me and made fun of me. I learned that everyone is entitled to an opinion and you can not please everyone. Once I learned that I became a lot happier and focused.
What advice would you give to an upcoming talent locally and internationally?
I encourage everyone to chase their dreams, as long as you believe in it, then it is possible to achieve them. It will take a long time to make it happen, but enjoy the journey and always get up when failures come around because this is how you grow as a person and become mentally stronger. Hard work pays off re: at the end and stay humble and never give up.
Photo Credit: Kristine Kleist | Stratford Ontario | http://www.kleistkreations.portfoliobox.io/recentwork