COLUMBIA — Sam Gelven, a starting midfielder for Columbia College men’s soccer team, saw his dream fade into darkness nearly one year ago, almost causing him to do something he had never done before: stop believing.
Gelven had always dreamed of playing professional soccer somewhere. He went to the University of Southern Indiana to play after high school. He didn’t play his first year, redshirting instead, and then after a disappointing season the next year, he needed a change. He talked to Southern Indiana coach Dan Hogan, who suggested his past team, Columbia College, as a good fit, and Gelven decided to transfer.
“He made our team extremely better.” Columbia College senior defender Chris Wright said, “He made a great transition and improved our club as soon as he got here.”
His first season with the Cougars in 2005 could not have gone better. Gelven loved the new atmosphere, his teammates and his coach. He won All-American Midwest Conference honors and was named the league’s Newcomer of the Year. Going into his junior year, professional teams started to show some interest.
“I played in the Premier Development League that summer and at the end of (the) season my coach told me about an invitation to this combine in the winter,” Gelven said, “I had a buddy do it a year before, and he actually got a tryout and made a professional team in Portland. So I was real excited.”
His excitement soon faded.
It was late September, the 10th game of the season, and the Cougars were playing Hannibal-LaGrange College. Gelven had the ball and was going down the sideline when an opposing player came flying in with a hard slide tackle, his cleats up. Gelven was hurled to the ground, severe pain coursing through his body. Confusion and anguish was all that filled his mind as he tried to stand up. He couldn’t. His tibia in his right leg had been fractured down the middle, and his dreams had been shattered with it.
“It was by far the worst pain I had ever felt,” Gelven said, “I have never had a major injury like that in my life, and it came at the worst possible time.”
It was eight weeks before he could start playing again. When the doctors, one of whom was his older brother Andrew Gelven, put on a cast, they told him to just to stay off his leg and the rest would take care of itself. But Sam Gelven was not used to sitting around. He had to sit in class, at practice and at home. He was tired of sitting. He soon began each day wanting it to be the next.
“I couldn’t stand just sitting, especially when I watched the team play,” Sam Gelven said. “It hurt seeing them practice, and soon everything became a huge challenge to do.”
School, friends, even soccer was mentally draining as he waited for the next eight weeks to pass. The midfielder had a hard time going to class, and an even harder time going to practice. Something that had consumed his life for 15 years was torn away, leaving him searching for answers or anything to help him get by.
“I didn’t want to do anything because nothing seemed to matter,” Sam Gelven said. “I was lost”.
Finally, it was his friends and family that came to his rescue. They constantly told him things would get better, that he would get another opportunity at showing his skills.
“I tried to do the little things to help him get over it all,” roommate and former teammate Greg Kayser said. “I wanted to just keep his spirits high.”
Kayser would drive him to class and practice, or spend the night with him instead of going out. Andrew Gelven gave him advice every time he came for checkups, pushing him not to give in as he re-casted his leg.
“Greg had been my friend since grade school and he just never let me give up.” Gelven said, “My family, especially Andrew, pulled me through and gave me the strength I needed.”
Eight weeks finally came and Gelven was allowed to resume soccer activities in early December. He missed the combine, and it seemed that the one chance he had at playing professional soccer was gone. His dream, still dim, still dark, was there, though, and it pushed him to work harder than he had ever worked before. Soon, spring practice started and pickup games with his teammates helped Gelven get back in shape. He regained his footwork and touch by doing drills. He ran and pushed his body as much as possible.
“He came back really well after he got his cast off,” Kayser said. “He definitely was driven to get back in shape and play.”
In the summer, Gelven was able to play in the PDL again for the same team and coach. He showed no ill effects from the injury. The dream that seemed to have died nine months earlier was being brought back to life.
“My PDL coach came to me and invited me again to the winter combines in Tampa,” Sam Gelven said. “He said that if that doesn’t work out, that he had some connections in Europe that would be more than interested.”
Sam Gelven is enjoying his senior year with the Cougars. He has hope, not just for this season, but also for his future playing career.
“Sam definitely has a shot at professional soccer.” Wright said, “He is extremely fit, big, and does all the little things right, he just needs a shot.”