FRISCO (AP) – Ryan Hollingshead would be the first to say he’s not a hero.
Yet the humble midfielder for FC Dallas keeps playing that role, whether it’s for his brother’s church, for kids at a Haitian orphanage or for an accident victim in a North Texas ice storm.
“Life takes you in different directions,” said Hollingshead, who is working his way back from broken vertebrae he suffered while helping a motorist in January.
Hollingshead and his wife were on the way to pick up a friend who had become stranded in the storm when they witnessed another driver slam into a median.
Hollingshead jumped out to help but another car lost control and hit him, throwing him about 35 feet into a guardrail and then onto the pavement.
He immediately sensed something was wrong.
“I couldn’t move for about 30 seconds, so I just sat there. I was trying to get up, but I couldn’t,” Hollingshead said. “But after about 30 seconds I was able to move my hands again and I was able to push myself up and hobble down the road to my wife who was still in the car, because I was afraid another car was going to come through and hit her.”
Hollingshead first thought he had broken his arms, but X-rays came back negative. That led doctors to check his neck and spine, where they found the damage: He fractured three vertebrae in his cervical spine.
Doctors believed the vertebrae would heal without surgery, but that meant spending an extended period in bed and keeping movement to a minimum, all the while wearing a neck brace. The hardest part of his recovery was not being able to hold his infant son, Henry.
“It was about five weeks in a brace, three of them I was doing nothing,” he said. “It was a slow process back.”
That Hollingshead stopped to help was of no surprise. He’d long been known for his charitable acts.
A standout at UCLA, Hollingshead was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2012, when he had seven goals and eight assists as a senior.
A future in Major League Soccer looked bright, and Hollingshead was expected to be drafted in the early rounds. There was just one problem: He had promised that once he graduated, he’d help his brother Scott establish a church back home in Sacramento, California.
Hollingshead didn’t take part in the pre-draft combine and thought that word had spread that he’d be taking some time away from the game. Then he took off for Haiti, where he and his wife, Taylor, worked in an orphanage.
With no phone or internet, Hollingshead had no idea that FC Dallas hadn’t heard and drafted him with the No. 20 pick in the second round. Once back in the U.S., he was surprised at Dallas’ response to his promise to his brother: The team said it would wait for him.
Hollingshead went to work launching the church and Dallas kept tabs, calling every once and a while to see how he was doing. Some 10 months later, Scott assured him that the church, Harvest Bible Chapel, was on solid ground.
“He was like: ‘This is the time for you to go. The church is in such good hands now, so you should go do it,’” he said.
Hollingshead made his FC Dallas debut in 2014. Last season, he started in 22 of the 29 games he appeared in and scored two goals. Known for his versatility, he played fullback last season.
After the accident, he returned to training in late March and has appeared as a substitute in three games. He’s also met the motorist he stopped to help, Abiodun Shuaib, who fractured a rib in the accident but was otherwise OK.
“He’s a good man with a good heart,” Abiodun said when Hollingshead returned to training. “You don’t really see people like that, stopping on the highway. It’s not something that is very common.”
FC Dallas has gone 5-2-5 this season to sit in third place in the Western Conference. After going unbeaten in its first nine games, the team has been winless in its last three.
Hollingshead said he’s still not 100 percent, although he feels good.
“I still need some fitness to get back, I still need to get stronger and rebuild some of muscle that I lost,” he said. “I’m close but I’m not fully there.”
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