It may be a long way from Melbourne to Madrid. And that’s the soccer journey 18-year-old Oakleigh Grammar student Con Christodoulou may find himself taking next year if he wins selection to the senior Pararoos (Australia’s national Paralympic football team) and if they can qualify for the 2019 International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football (IFCPF) World Cup in Spain.
But then again, Christodoulou has already come a long way since suffering a life-changing stroke in October 2015, which left the teenager with left-sided weakness and reduced range of movement. Having played junior club soccer since the age of 11 with the Bentleigh Greens and Caulfield United Cobras, the prospect of playing soccer again after his stroke, seemed remote given he struggled “to even just pass the ball.” Even now, he says he still tires easily, and his concentration is not as good as what it was prior to the stroke.
As Christodoulou explained, “prior to the stroke, I just wanted to play soccer for fun. I didn’t want to play competitively, but ever since I had a stroke, I just wanted to get back to where I was before and just wanted to keep playing soccer.”
With the encouragement of his family, his physiotherapist and his own determination, two years after the stroke Christodoulou succeeded in winning selection to the Victorian Paralympic Program and represented the state at the National Paralympic Championships late last year. The young centre back’s impressive performances for Victoria attracted the eye of the national Pararoos coach Kai Lammert and he, along with another two Greek Australians from Victoria, keeper Christian Tsangas and Christian Bitsikas attended the first Pararoos training camp of the year, in Sydney last week.
Christodoulou told Neos Kosmos that participating in the Pararoos training camp “was a great experience. A great opportunity to be invited. It was a much higher intensity to play and train with the Pararoos compared to Victoria. Honestly, it was so much fun. I enjoyed it so much.”
Christodoulou’s first ever Pararoos’ camp taught him that to play at an international level “you have to be very fit. You have to focus on Soccer more than anything else basically, in order to reach an international level . . . I’ve kind of realised as I started playing, fitness is number one in order to succeed and do well.”
Christodoulou plays futsal once a week and aims to train at least four times a week, either going for a run or going to the gym. He often trains on his own. As he explains, “It makes it harder. The motivation is not there set up for me, so I have to do it by myself.” And he does all that while juggling Year 12 studies. Christodoulou has his heart set on finishing school and studying at university, in pursuit of a career in physiotherapy.
He has strong support from his family. “My dad, mum, brother, and sisters have always supported me with soccer. They love how I’m going with soccer. Even after being selected for the Pararoos camp, my mum was crying, and my sister as well.”
For Christodoulou, representing his country as a Pararoo, “Would be such an honour. I would be very grateful to be part of that, to represent Australia.”
The 25-player squad that attended the Pararoos camp in Sydney last week will be trimmed to a squad of 14 players to travel to the US in mid-July to play an international tournament in preparation for the IFCPF Asia-Oceania Championships in Iran in November. The championship will also double as a qualifier for the 2019 IFCPF World Cup in Spain.