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Atletico Ottawa captain Drew Beckie a study in faith and perseverance

The Beckie family will be well represented when Canada takes on New Zealand on Saturday in a women's soccer friendly. Janine Beckie will be in a Canadian uniform. Brother Drew and mother Sheila will be in the stands at Ottawa's TD Place.

The Beckie family will be well represented when Canada takes on New Zealand on Saturday in a women's soccer friendly.

Janine Beckie will be in a Canadian uniform. Brother Drew and mother Sheila will be in the stands at Ottawa's TD Place. 

Janine, a forward who plays her club football for Manchester City, has already scored 33 goals in 81 appearances for her country and taken the pitch around the world. But on Saturday, the 27-year-old will be in her older brother's house.

Drew Beckie is captain of Atletico Ottawa, a second-year Canadian Premier League team.

His story is one of perseverance and faith, surviving two major health scares including myocarditis, a rare disease that causes inflammation of the heart muscle.

Teammates and coaches call him a caring, generous sort always willing to help out. The 31-year-old centre back played his part in Janine's development as a player.

"Any time Drew had friends over, I was always trying to get in the backyard with them," Janine says in "Still Defending," a 2020 documentary about her brother's road to recovery. "You know, older brother, annoying little sister. He always told me to go away and everything. And then when all of his friends were gone, we would play soccer in the back.

"Drew was hard on me as an older brother, but I think obviously for the best reasons. And he always says he taught me everything that I know. Which is very true in most aspects."

Drew, who will miss Ottawa's home game Sunday against York United FC due to yellow card accumulation, is looking forward to seeing his sister on his home pitch.

"It's special for me because you see where Janine started and where she is now, it's real exciting," he said.

The two are close. Their father passed away when Drew was 11.

A former Canadian youth international and Columbus Crew draft choice, Regina-born Drew played for the Ottawa Fury, Carolina Railhawks, Jacksonville Armada, Oklahoma City Energy and El Paso Locomotive before signing with Atletico.

In late 2017, out of contract with Jacksonville and with the NASL on hiatus, Drew went to Finland for a tryout with a first division team. It went well and, when it was done, he flew to Stockholm to visit a friend.

While there, he experienced pain in his chest and elsewhere. After a week in hospital, they determined he was dealing with a virus that was attacking multiple areas of his body.

Without a contract or insurance, friends and family set up a gofundme campaign to help with his medical expenses.

After months of recovery, he returned to the pitch with Oklahoma City, where he spent two seasons before moving to El Paso. He signed with Ottawa in May 2021.

This summer, there was another medical setback — albeit one he downplays.

"It's all part of life," he said. "And luckily in our country we have great health care and great doctors that took care of me."

The day before an Aug. 25 road game against Forge FC, Beckie experienced dizzy spells and a bad headache.

"I thought I'm just going to sleep it off and I'll wake up in the morning and I'll feel better," he said.

Instead, he woke up with chest pains. Given his past experience with myocarditis in 2017, that set off alarm bells.

"I had some pain in my back, specifically on the left side. And then it progressed to my left arm going numb. And I knew that that was a big red flag. So I spoke with our team doctors and team physio and they suggested I go to the hospital.

"I took an Uber to the hospital and I ended up being there for about six days."

He had high levels of troponin, signifying something that was happening in his heart.

Complicating matters was the fact that he tested positive for exposure to COVID-19, which he had had in February, on his second day in the hospital. He had had his first vaccination dose in February and was waiting on the second dose because of his past health issues.

"I had been told by doctors I need to wait, just because of the response that it could do to my heart. But it ended up happening anyways."

One COVID test was positive. Two more were negative.

He was told he hadn't necessarily contracted COVID again. He had been exposed to it and his body's immune system fought it "but the response from my body was to attack the heart."

"Luckily I had great care. I was able to stay relatively comfortable in the hospital and then I was released about six days later and returned to the team. I didn't know exactly what that meant for the future. It probably was likely that I wouldn't play any more. But my faith and God had different plans. Now I'm here, playing again."

After being released, Beckie returned to the team — not knowing what future awaited him. Fortunately. an MRI upon his return to Ottawa showed no damage to the heart.

Eight games and 35 dates later, he returned to action. And he did so in style, knocking home a Brian Wright rebound in the second minute for the opening goal in a 3-1 win over visiting Cavalry FC that ended an eight-game Ottawa winless streak (0-4-4).

Beckie sprinted the length of the field, after helping defend a Cavalry free kick aimed at his own penalty box, to be in the right place at the right time for the goal. It was an impressive showing from a man who had only had a couple of days training.

"It was the second minute. I had all the energy left. I was done after that," he said with a laugh.

It drew a proud tweet from Janine.

"So proud of you … One month ago in the hospital unsure he’d play again and now he’s back on the pitch leading this team. Your resilience & dedication continue to inspire me. Love you."

Drew says his initial bout with COVID was mild, with fatigue and a headache for about a week. "I was lucky that way. No ramifications."

He isolated "and my body fought it well."

Beckie isn't one to get on a soapbox. But he says COVID has to be taken seriously, "something that we are all fighting together.

"It doesn't matter if you're a healthy soccer player training every day, eating right, or you're somebody's who's auto-immune compromised. Everybody's the same. And we need each other to do the right things to fight it. And that's wearing a mask and getting vaccinated, in my opinion. That's my opinion. Everyone's allowed theirs. That's the best part of our democratic process."

Beckie has now come back from two health scares. He says he takes his guidance from the medical experts.

"Do I want to do it a third time? No. But I'm also vigilant about making decisions with the future in mind."

No stranger to the capital from his time with the Fury, Beckie is happy to be back even though he could probably make more money playing elsewhere. While the pandemic and growing pains of a new team have taken their toll — Ottawa is seventh in the eight-team league at 6-14-6 — he sees plenty of positives in the CPL franchise.

For Beckie, it's about the journey, not the destination.

"I'm committed for the future. That's why I came back to the CPL, to help younger players grow and help the national team get players for the future. Building something. That's what you look back upon. You don't remember the games you played or the results you had, for me at least. I remember the people you did it with."

Beckie says coaching is a future goal and already he is trying to see what kind of coach he would be — one who manages the players and builds a coaching staff around him or one more involved in coaching and tactics.

"I'd love to coach but I don't know what my future holds. But I'll be ready if I'm ever asked to do it."

If not coaching, broadcasting could be a future career. He is thoughtful and well-spoken.

Having played in a variety of leagues, Beckie sees the financial commitment of the CPL and its broadcast partner over the next 10 years as "massive."

"They're working hard to put young talent on the map and to develop it," he said. "Because there is a lot of talent in Canada, as we're getting to see it now with the men's national team.

"And people are starting to believe in Canadian players, whereas from the early part of my career, if you're a Canadian you always had to fight for everything. And we still have to fight for everything but it's starting to get a little bit more notoriety — in a good way. So that's what I'm here for. I'm 31 now, so I can play maybe, I don't know, three or four more year, whatever. I can't wait to look back in 10 years and say 'OK, that's where we were at and this is where we are now because of the investment of the CPL.'"


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press