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Ryan Hollingshead On His Near-Fatal Accident And Giving Back

The soccer star was just named MLS Humanitarian of the Year.

FC Dallas midfielder Ryan Hollingshead is the winner of this year’s MLS Humanitarian of the Year, an award honoring a player for their athletics and their service in the community.

Hollingshead has made contributions on and off the field since being drafted out of UCLA in 2013’s MLS SuperDraft. After FC Dallas selected him in the second round, Hollingshead opted to delay his professional career in order to spend a year at home in Northern California helping his brother build a church and doing volunteer work in Haiti. He signed with the team a year later but missed the first part of the 2017 season after a near-fatal accident fractured three vertebrae in his neck.

GOOD caught up with Hollingshead to discuss the accident that could have cost him his life and career and how it felt to be honored as the MLS Humanitarian of the Year.

On Jan. 6, I was in Dallas driving to pick up a friend who had gotten into a car accident. It was icy that night and sleeting a little bit. My wife and I were on our way to pick him up when the car in front of us skidded across the road, slamming into a median in the middle of the road.

The car was disabled in the fast lane of the freeway and both of its headlights were smashed out in the pitch dark in the middle of the road on this icy night. As we slowed down to pass the car we immediately thought, “If we leave this guy here in his car like this he’s going to get crushed by the next car coming down the freeway.”

We pulled over and I ran up the shoulder to see if I could help him get out of his car. I walked him over to the side of the shoulder to get us out of the fast lane. People driving by were starting to drive slowly around us. We were standing there talking and another car came flying through the shoulder and shot me 30-feet down the freeway.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]It is a life that I’m trying to live; one that will pull over and help a stranded pedestrian, or one that is willing to stop and do whatever needs to be done and put aside a schedule to help somebody else.[/quote]

I was temporarily paralyzed and couldn’t move any part of my body for about 20 seconds. More than playing soccer, the first thoughts that were going through my head were about my kids and my family and me not being able to play with them. It was so scary. I was able to push myself up and get up onto the other side of the median but I realized that something was very wrong. My face was cut and my shoes had been knocked off, so I had no shoes on. I hobbled down the road to my wife and she got out of the car and helped me figure out what happened.

When I was in the hospital the people who were the most helpful were the FC Dallas and the FC Dallas family. I was sent so many care packages to help lift my spirits. People were coming over to visit and bringing us meals and reaching out in any way possible.

Because my injury happened off the soccer field technically, they could’ve just completely left me on my own and not jumped in to help. That’s proof of the values of FC Dallas. They could have been mad or frustrated and they could have written me off since this happened outside the soccer field. Instead, they did everything they could do to walk with me through the healing process and get me back on the field. They care about people, they care about community, and they care about the things that are bigger than soccer. The office staff sent me gifts and letters and our technical directors were reaching out and visiting me. They didn’t have to do that. They’re going for a culture at FC Dallas that is different and cares about people and the communities that they’re playing in.

Image courtesy of FC Dallas.

I think that this award and being recognized for it means a lot to me because it wasn’t anything planned. It is a life that I’m trying to live; one that will pull over and help a stranded pedestrian, or one that is willing to stop and do whatever needs to be done and put aside a schedule to help somebody else. Hopefully, that’s my life: One that is lived for other people and to take advantage of those possibilities. So being nominated for this award was a complete surprise. I definitely wasn’t trying to make this happen. There is something great about setting up an organization or talking at a school and I’m not discrediting that at all. But, I also think that it is something different to live a life constantly looking to help which has always been my goal. Being nominated for this award and being recognized means so much to me because it was anything planned.

With the award the MLS said that we’d be able to give $5,000 to the charity of our choice. We thought, we know exactly where we want to give it. We chose a charity called Gather for Goats, a charity for Syrian refugees. We tried to give some of our own money to this charity over the summer when the refugee crisis was at its height, but we give a lot of money other other local things as well and we weren’t able to give as much as we would have liked. The $5,000 is enough to buy 20 goats, so 20 or 25 families will have their nutrition supplied. There are huge communities that are living on the outskirts of town who have little to no access to water or food or any sort of market to get what they need and these goats help provide families with milk, butter, and cheese. We are so grateful.

The platform we have as professional soccer players can extend so much further beyond the soccer field and I want to use that platform to impact my community.

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