The Overcomer

PHOTO: Hector Omooba (@hectoromooba)

The defensive midfielder from Cavalry FC has outstretched arms, welcoming me into a warm hug as I step into his apartment in South Calgary. It’s a cloudless summer’s day in the city, and the 26-year-old soccer star, Elijah Adekugbe, has invited us into his home to talk about his experience dealing with loneliness in his time out injured, the importance of his family, and how he merges two of his passions: soccer and music.

The apartment is an extension of Elijah himself. From pictures of his family lined up on the walls, endless collections of soccer jerseys hung in his bedroom, to a home-based music studio where he comes into his own through beautiful lyricism and impressive wordplay. It’s clear that the space is his place of solace. The England-born star excitedly mentions, “It’s convenient living here. I’m fifteen minutes away from Spruce, where we train, there’s a shopping complex a few blocks over, and most importantly, my Mom is only a ten-minute drive away. So, when I’m missing some of her home-cooked jollof rice, I don’t have to travel far to get some!”

In Nigeria, where Elijah’s family is from, soccer – or ‘football’ as it is more widely known worldwide – and music are arguably two of the most passionate activities the nation shares. These passions are infused in his DNA and have become his most important forms of self-expression. Born in London, England, to parents who are pastors, Elijah and his four siblings were raised to be involved in music through the church and to participate in a sport after school. “I opted to play the drums growing up. My older brother, Sam, played the piano, and my three younger sisters sang. It’s only been Sam, myself, and Ruth, my youngest sister, that have continued playing soccer.”

He’s got a million-dollar smile and it beams as he points to a classical guitar sitting in the corner of his living room, “I’ve had this sitting here for a while now. I’ve tried convincing myself to get into it. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m sure I’ll start seriously practicing one of these days when I’ve got a bit more time.” Balancing being a professional athlete and having a musical career can be overwhelming, but Elijah can’t see himself doing anything else. “If I’m not on the road with the team playing soccer, then I’m in Calgary playing soccer. If it’s not soccer, then I’m making music. They’re both everything to me. It’s funny, most people don’t know this about me, but I went to university to study Business for a bit. It was something I pursued for a few years until I was honest with myself and eventually dropped out. I knew I wasn’t passionate about working in finance for the rest of my life. It’s always been soccer and music.”

“If it’s not soccer, then I’m making music. They’re both everything to me.”

PHOTO: Hector Omooba (@hectoromooba)

When we enter Elijah’s home recording studio, his eyes light up. His grin radiates through the room as he picks up a notepad, takes a seat in the booth, and starts to explain how music changed his life. “I grew up in the church playing the drums and having an active role in serving the community in that capacity. It wasn’t until last year, when I suffered my second Achilles tear, when everything changed.” Looking at Elijah, it’s hard to tell the 5’9 playmaker has experienced the physical demands of an Achilles tear recovery. He tells us those were some of his darkest moments. “I couldn’t believe it. A second Achilles tear? It was a lot for me. I was away from the team, separated from the sport I love. I felt lost. My whole life, soccer had shaped who I was, and I had defined it as my purpose. Knowing that the team had a solid chance of winning a championship and I wasn’t with them, I was heartbroken.” He opens his notepad and shows us the hundreds of pages filled with songs, stories, and quotes that inspire him. “I spent a lot of time on my own. Throughout my recovery, I had to look inward, be honest with myself and find refuge in things away from soccer, and that’s when I built this studio. This is where I can remove all distractions, and here is where I started using my love for music and songwriting to channel my feelings and thoughts.”

Elijah started posting recordings of his songs on Instagram, and tells us that people really resonated with what he was putting out. I’ve been blessed to build a community that appreciates my art through social media. It’s changed everything for me.” His single “Dream Team” that he wrote about Cavalry FC is now played at home games and has become a hit that fans sing along to. “It blows me away at times. Having my teammates show love to my songs is amazing, but seeing how much it means to the fans is a crazy feeling. It’s the same euphoria as assisting or scoring a goal.”

On May 21st, Elijah scored a last-second goal to win the game for his team in front of their home fans on his return from injury. “Man, I can’t put it into words. It was all a blur, I remember the ball falling to my feet, and I struck it sweetly, and the next thing I know, the stadium erupted. I cried because it was the pinnacle of all the trials and tribulations I had gone through over the past few months recovering from the injury. It brought me back to all the training sessions and time I spent in Canterbury fields growing up. I’d often go there to remind myself to persevere and be relentless in my ambitions on the pitch or with music.”

PHOTO: Hector Omooba (@hectoromooba)

On the field, he is a midfielder who enjoys playing in a defensive role. He credits his career to the time he spent practicing at Canterbury Fields in South-West Calgary. He drives us over there as he mentions the field is symbolic in his personal life as his humble beginnings and a reminder to always chase your dreams. “This is where it all started. After school every day, Mom or Dad would drop Sam and I off here to play with our local team, Foothills FC. I often reminisce on its significance in my development as a soccer player and person. I know Sam probably feels the same way as he’s also had his ups and downs, but he was a big support point for me when I was injured.” Like Elijah, his older brother, Sam Adekugbe, is a soccer superstar. He is the starting Left Back for Team Canada that will be making their way to Qatar later this year for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. “It’s inspiring to see. That’s my big brother, you know. My family is all so close, and seeing the groundwork my parents put in paying off makes us proud. We’re all doing our thing, whether on the soccer field, with music, or with our other passions; seeing how we’ve all experienced tough times but have been able to overcome is something I hope to use to inspire others.”

This season, Elijah has eased himself back into the team and has shone through. At the time of writing, Cavalry FC sits at first place on the Canadian Premier League standings, intending to win a championship. Watching Elijah play is an incredible experience. His ability to set the tempo of the game while constructing each beat of play for the team to dance to the tune of victory is thrilling to witness. “I’m just a simple guy who loves playing soccer and making music. The only limits to what I can achieve are in my mind.”