November 18th, 2012
Friday, November 16, 2012
Don't tell Chris Merriman soccer players are soft.
The Vancouver Island University Mariners defender did his best to debunk the myth last week at the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association championships, pushing to come back early from a broken leg, re-breaking it and then continuing to play on.
Re-injurying himself does not bother him, however, losing the gold medal game 3-2 in a shootout to the Humber College Hawks does.
He had returned to the program after a year travelling and playing in Europe, to help some of his friends as they pushed for one final championship with the Mariners.
Despite playing through pain, Merriman says he still almost feels like he let down his team after watching the second half and overtime and shoot out on crutches from the sideline.
"I walk away from it knowing I did everything I could, but I'm always going to feel bad that I couldn't be there to help them finish it off," he said. "We had a lot of free kicks and a lot of corners and I feel if I had been on the pitch I could have found one of our players . . . and put the game away."
Merriman, 21, originally broke his fibia during their 2-1 win over the Langara Falcons on Oct. 6 on a dirty play.
He had passed off the ball and then after a long delay a Falcons player kicked him in the leg hard - the Falcons player later apologized in an email. Still Merriman stayed in the game until coming down hard on the leg after going for a ball in the air.
The X-ray confirmed a break and he was told it would be six weeks before he could start physiotherapy, forget playing at provincials and nationals. Had he held to that, he would still have another week of rest.
This was unacceptable for Merriman.
Working with the team's trainer, Chad Arsenault, he spent the next four-and-a-half weeks in aggressive therapy, where they used everything from lasers and a diet that consisted of far too much kelp to encourage healing.
The Mariners earned silver at the Pacific Western Athletic Association championships, falling to the CCAA host Douglas College Royals, to earn their way to nationals. The day before they took the ferry to Vancouver, he tested it in practice for the first time. It still hurt, but the pain was manageable.
He declared himself healthy.
His head coach is also his dad, which complicated the call for Bill Merriman.
"It was a difficult call but I knew how much he wanted to play," he said, adding he checked with doctors first to make sure he'd be OK. "I know my son well and I know it would be a lot harder on him not to play than to play."
Chris did more than just stand on the sidelines to offer psychological support, he started and he was effective. He scored once and set up two other goals in the Mariners' two wins to get to the final.
But during their second win over the Royals he got hurt again on another tackle. He knew immediately it was bad.
He spent the next 36 hours icing his leg and going through physio in his hotel room with Arsenault. He had come this far and was not about to miss out on the final.
Merriman once again proved to play a big role in their early success. He set up Dan Cato for their first goal, but shortly after he was tackled again. He tried to play on, the leg giving out a couple of times, and even earned a free kick before being forced from the game.
His motivation was simple. It was the same motivation that brought him back to the program for his second year of eligibility - he was part of VIU's 2010 national championship team. He wanted to send some of his close friends out in style, namely fifth year players Ben Leggett, Davis Stupich and Matt Mehrassa. Cato also falls into that group, but he will be back next year.
Watching the rest of the game was one of the toughest things he's had to do in soccer.
The doctor confirmed the break that night, but this time has been told to stay off of it for eight weeks. He says with soccer done for the year, he will exercise caution this time.
Chris' toughness did not surprise his dad. Bill has coached him and his brothers for years and has seen them all play through pain.
"It was really good for some of the newer players to see that this is what this team is about," he said. "It's not just Chris, but we've got players like Ben Leggett and Dan Cato that would be exactly the same way."
While Chris is leaving the door open to return to VIU, he also has his sites set on possibly returning to play in Europe after playing most of a season in Finland before tearing the meniscus in his knee, or possibly joining his brother James at Simon Fraser University.
Pro soccer is the goal, but if that does not workout he wants to get into sports psychology, citing the support he has had from his parents and brothers through his soccer career.
"I've seen a lot of good players waste their gift because they haven't had that person pushing them. It would be nice to pass that on," he said. "It makes me feel