By Stuart Miller-Davis
For Orleans’ Samuel Charron, it’s an honour to have been twice named Canada Soccer’s para-soccer player of the year. But having his sport recognized is more important, Charron says.
Charron was born with a hole in the left side of his brain, which causes cerebral palsy. He began playing soccer at age four. At 14, he played his first international match with the little-known national para-soccer team that’s specifically for athletes with cerebral palsy.
Before joining the national team, Charron said he had tried “to make (his) body as normal as possible,” but realized through playing with older athletes who share his condition that “it doesn’t stop us from doing what we want.”
“We can represent our country and play the sport we love,” Charron told the Sports Pages in an interview.
But where Charron sees a weakness for the program is the public awareness of it. If more people knew about the team, he says it would benefit not only the team but also other athletes with cerebral palsy as well.
“Our program has been running on word of mouth for players,” Charron said.
“Once you get more people to talk about it, then we can get more funding and more support,” he added.
Throughout his career, Charron has bounced back-and-forth between playing non-para-soccer and para-soccer.
“There’s a lot more space to cover compared to 11-on-11,” Charron said in reference to para-soccer, which is played 7-a-side.
“You have to work a lot more as a team because there’s less people to cover up mistakes. In 7-a-side you can really recognize what teams are better and can cover.”
Charron wrapped up his university playing career with St. Francis Xavier’s men’s varsity team in 2019. He played all 12 games for the X-Men in his final year, helping them earn a berth at the U Sports national championship.
“It’s probably one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Charron said about his career with St. FX.
Charron recommends that others with cerebral palsy also play both versions of the game.
“Disability is already not stopping them from playing the sport they love. If you’re able to do it, I recommend it 100 per cent,” he said.
While he plays defender in the non-para game, Charron is a goal-scoring midfielder with the national para team. In 51 international appearances, he’s scored 43 goals and recorded 14 assists.
At the 2019 International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football (IFCPF) World Cup in Spain, Canada’s last international tournament due to the pandemic, Charron scored 6 goals in 6 games and was named tournament MVP, while Canada finished 12th.
Now 22 years old, Charron is touted as one of the best para-soccer players in the world.
But much like his preference for his sport to be recognized over him, personally, it’s team success that Charron says he’s chasing.
“The awards are nice but if we can play better as a collective, I’ll trade individual awards away for awards as team in a heartbeat.”
Charron has been training as frequently as possible while soccer domes have been closed during the pandemic. He still says he’s chasing his ultimate goal of reaching the Paralympics, though that’s a dream that make take some time to achieve.
Seven-a-side soccer made its debut at the 1984 Games, and has been a staple ever since, but will be replaced at the Tokyo Games by a 5-a-side variety, open to athletes who are visually impaired.
“Hopefully, when the sport comes back into the Paralympics, if we can qualify, that will give us an enormous boost of confidence but also even more coverage for people with disabilities.”