Like every player coming up through Gorge FC, Jamie Ackinclose dreamed of putting on the Canada jersey in soccer.
He did just that, but he could never have imagined it would have been for the Canadian men’s Para team.
But that’s the route down which fate led Ackinclose after 12 concussions in the sport.
Ackinclose retired this week as the greatest Canadian Para player of all-time with 35 caps and 25 goals in nine years. The only regret is not getting to play in the Paralympics after Canada just missed qualifying for London 2012 and Rio 2016. But there were plenty of other caps from the Para Pan Am Games and Para World Cup.
Para soccer is open to those who have cerebral palsy or have suffered strokes, concussions or brain injuries.
Ackinclose was a top-level player coming up through Gorge FC but took his share of blows to the head, especially from a common source in the sport — goalkeepers who miss the ball during a punch out but instead drill an opponent or teammate. Ackinclose was also concussed when he landed on the back of his head after a bicycle-kick goal.
“There was one time I don’t even remember walking off the field,” said Ackinclose.
“It was back in the day when they didn’t really know about concussions,” added the 51-year-old father of three.
One of his worst occurred on deck in slow pitch when a swung bat slipped out of a teammate’s hands and helicoptered hard off Ackinclose’s head. Ackinclose had just helped lead Gorge FC to the 2001 Province Cup senior men’s soccer championship but was unable to play in the national championships because of the slowpitch-bat concussion.
Once the medical community caught up the seriousness of the concussion issue, Ackinclose’s life had already been affected by it.
So when the opportunity came to become a nationally-carded athlete, there was much to think about.
“I have a love for this game and I couldn’t sit still. I’m a soccer person,” said Ackinclose, who is the technical director of Gorge FC.
“My family was concerned. But they also know how stubborn I am.”
Ackinclose has travelled the world — from Argentina to Holland, Portugal and Spain — representing Canada and has never held back.
“You have to be careful heading the ball. But it is such a big part of the game that it is hard to stop doing it if you want to be effective,” he said.
Soft-spoken off the pitch, Ackinclose was a true warrior on it when wearing the red and white. Often, he was up against former pro players on the national Para teams of England, Argentina and Russia. He won the respect of all he played against.
“England has a supremely talented team but their players came up to me following a game and told me Jamie [Ackinclose] was by far the best player on the pitch,” said Canadian Para head coach Drew Ferguson, a former NASL pro with the New York Cosmos and Chicago Sting, who earned nine caps with the able-bodied Canadian national team.
It’s wearing the national team jersey that instils that sense of commitment and pride, said Ackinclose.
“It’s hard to explain what you feel when you put on that Canadian jersey,” he said.
“All these young players here at Gorge FC dream of playing for Canada. I wish one day they can experience that feeling.”