Ryan Hollingshead always realized just how blessed he is to play for FC Dallas. But after having his life on and off the field upended in a January car accident, he now appreciates playing soccer even more.
Hollingshead, 26, currently in his fifth season with FCD, was injured in a January 6 car accident in Irving while trying to render aid to a stranded motorist during icy road conditions. He initially thought he was paralyzed but broke three vertebrae in his neck.
However, he worked his way back to full health and on May 14, made his season debut, playing the final two minutes of a match against New York City FC at Toyota Stadium.
His first full 90-minute performance came on July 1 against Toronto FC, also in Frisco. All told, Hollingshead has played 10 games since returning, five of those being starts.
And as well as he’s done to reach this point, he still feels like he can reach another level with his defensive play.
Honestly, I still don’t feel like my old self. I feel like there’s things I’m working on and trying to get back, but I’m really close,” Hollingshead said. “It’s like a 95, 98-percent type of thing, so it’s a lot more of my motion, my mobility. I would say yeah, I’m really close but again, I haven’t gotten to that point where I’m like I feel great.”
Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja, who has been coaching the club since 2014, likes what he has seen from Hollingshead, a converted midfielder, thus far, but knows that recovering from one of the more unique injury situations he’s seen as a coach takes time.
Ryan is getting back. I think he’s getting some rhythm in training and he had the opportunity to have a few games where he felt the same with the intensity of the game in real time,” Pareja said. “Sometimes for sure with that kind of injury, consciously your body reacts differently, but I can see him getting back.”
Besides the actual recovery from the accident, the other especially tough aspect of the after effects were wearing a halo, which limited his range of motion, making it tough for him to do much with his young son, Huck, who just celebrated his first birthday earlier this month.
However, as he progressed in his recovery, Ryan was able to play with his son, moments he definitely doesn’t take for granted.
It’s amazing. I love that guy so much and he’s such a joy. That’s another thing that just keeps me going every morning, is waking up and seeing that guy, finally being able to hold him and play with him, get down with him and wrestle with him,” Hollingshead said.
Hollingshead and his wife are expecting a girl in a few weeks. But one thing that kept him going during his recovery was the videos his wife made of Huck, including the first time he rolled over and other memorable moments.
Yeah, that was one of the hardest times, was just watching him through videos that my wife was taking,” Hollingshead said. “Even though he was in the room right next door to me, I couldn’t get out of bed to go see him. The first time that he rolled over, I didn’t see it. I just saw it on a video. Even though it happened 10 feet away from me, I just couldn’t look at it. That’s the biggest bummer, those things, but now that’s all back to normal.”
Earlier this year, Hollingshead said one of the silver linings to come from the accident was the extra time he got to spend with his wife and son as he was recovering.
And as he looks back on the situation again, he realizes something else about his experiences from earlier this year.
My situation should have been much worse. I’m so thankful to God that my neck isn’t broken and I’m still playing soccer, so in that respect I’m very thankful just to be where I’m at,” Hollingshead said. “You need those kinds of experiences just to understand and fully appreciate the ability to play soccer.”
I think that’s maybe the biggest thing I took away (from all this). I think you just get stuck in your own life and your own head. You just go through the motions and assume this is given to me and this is what I deserve. After that, you’re like I don’t deserve any of this and I’m just so grateful that I have the opportunity to play soccer for a living. That’s probably the big one.”
Despite the accident, when asked if he would do it all over again, he didn’t hesitate in saying yes, adding that this experience hasn’t diminished his desire to help people.
Hollingshead’s latest inspiring tale has drawn praise from the soccer world and from FCD fans, it’s also inspired his coaches and teammates to maybe be a bit extra grateful for just how blessed they are to play the game they love on a daily basis.
No, it’s a great lesson that life gave us all, not just to Ryan but to everyone who is around him. We all appreciate much more the gift of life and knowing that we have the opportunity to do what we love the most, be able to run and train,” Pareja said. “Sometimes life just sends you those messages, that things can end at any minute because we’re so fragile.”