Blades of grass crunch under Joshua Lee’s blue Adidas cleats as he speeds across the field, his sight fixed on a soccer ball. Harsh November wind whips his face as he gets close, snatching the ball away from a Vancouver Island player with skilled footwork.
A moment later, he smashes home a goal, beating the keeper and opening scoring for Durham College (DC) in the 17th minute of the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) soccer gold medal game. Durham went on to beat Vancouver Island 3-2 to claim the championship.
Lee, 19, is a striker for the Durham Lords’ soccer team.
A first-year student in the Entrepreneurship and Small Business program, Lee enrolled at DC with the intention of joining the Lords and pursuing his passion for soccer. Furthermore, the school’s role as host for the national soccer championships was all the more incentive for him to apply.
“I knew I was going to play soccer wherever I go,” he said. “And with the nationals being hosted here, it meant all the more to come to Durham. That was kind of like the ticket for me to go show what I got.”
Lee, who is from Ajax, has been playing soccer since he was 12, which he considers “later than others.
“One time after elementary school, I came out and I saw one of my friends playing out in the field. I thought to myself, that looks fun,” he said. “And I figured if he can do it, maybe I can.”
After playing the sport for a few years at the rep and academy level, Lee’s soccer took a backseat to his health.
He was diagnosed with epilepsy at 17 after several seizures which he initially mistook as “complicated migraines.
“I had my first grand seizure two days after my birthday, which kind of sucked. And then I had my second one on the new year, so I spent my New Year’s in the hospital,” he explained. “Yeah, it’s tough not being able to do most things but for what it is, I’m still alive. So, I go play soccer.”
Lee said his condition doesn’t affect his games as playing soccer is “a stress reliever” to him.
“It’s kind of like therapy…I always have fun on the field,” he said. “Coach would call me ‘Smiley’ because I always walk with a smile. Ready to go, ready to train.”
In the short span of three months, Lee has accumulated a number of awards: Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) Rookie of the Year, followed by OCAA all-star, CCAA championship all-star and most importantly, CCAA championship most valuable player after DC won the 2019 title on Nov. 9.
This year’s national championships was held on home turf, as DC hosted the matches Nov. 6-9 on Vaso’s Field.
The Lords won the gold medal game for the first time in school history, concluding the season with 11 wins and two losses.
Lee was DC’s leading scorer on the season with 10 goals.
“I’m proud of myself,” he said. “I put in a lot of hard work, lot of bumps and bruises to get those goals, but hey, it was well worth it.”
In the months leading up to the nationals, head coach Dave Ashfield conducted practice sessions for at least two hours every day, including weekends.
“Joshua’s a very good, very strong player. He’s quick, always attentive to detail and always willing to learn,” said Ashfield. “He’s been a great find for the Lords this year.”
According to Lee, the season has been a “roller-coaster.
“At first, it was a little tight finding my spot on the team,” he said. “But the season turned out to be really fun, with all the guys wanting to work for each other.
“We were all there through the cold nights of training before a game, planning and strategizing against the opponent we were playing. The little laughs and giggles, the little battles that we had in practice was a lot of fun.”
Outside DC, Lee is also a part of Master’s Futbol Academy, a competitive Ontario soccer league.
The biggest challenge he faces with soccer and school is time management but with the conclusion of soccer season, Lee wants to focus on his classes again.
“I would rather play football (soccer) for the rest of my life if I could,” he said. “But you kind of have to have a plan B because it doesn’t always work out.
“I just try and keep it simple, one thing at a time. It’s a marathon, not a race. So if you miss one thing, it’s not the end of the world,” Lee said. “Make the best of what it is and go from there.”