CHICAGO – Radford men's soccer junior Nick Mayhugh has been named to the U.S. Paralympic National Team 14-man roster, earning the honor of competing in the 2017 IFCPF CP Football World Championships in San Luis, Argentina from Sept. 5-24.
"Honestly, it is still kind of hard to put exactly how I feel into words. To remember being told in 2010 that I would never be able to play soccer again and to think where I am at now in my career is so surreal to me," Mayhugh said. "It has all happened so fast. After what was a life changing summer on-and-off the pitch with the USPNT, being selected as one of the 14 guys to the roster for the World Championships is such an honor and an amazing feeling."
The USA enters the tournament with its best world ranking at No. 6. Group D will see the red, white and blue face reigning Paralympic champion and world No. 1 Ukraine, No. 13 Northern Ireland and No. 16 Australia. It's the most difficult group in the tournament based on average world ranking. The PNT opens play on Sept. 11 against Australia at 5 p.m. ET.
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"As a team, we have made big strides in the right direction in a very little amount of time and I'm eager to see it all come together with such a talented group of guys in this tournament. As this is my first international tournament with the U.S. PNT, I am nothing but excited for this new challenge," Mayhugh noted. "The seven-a-side game is a different style, but when the whistle blows, it's still the same game I have been playing since I was four-years old. I plan on soaking as much of the experience in as possible and remembering to just have fun."
A seventh-place finish at last summer's Paralympics earned the USA a spot in this summer's World Championships. The field features all eight squads from last summer's tournament in Rio as well as eight teams from the 2016 IFCPF World Championship Qualification Tournament. This competition marks the start of a new four-year cycle. Advancement to the knockout rounds means a top-eight finish and qualification for the most important competition of the cycle: the 2019 IFCPF World Cup in Pinto, Spain.
"For me, making this team has meant everything," Mayhugh noted. "It has forced me to open up about some of the darkest times in my childhood and cope with things that I had hidden from those closest to me my entire life."
The Paralympic National Team is made up of players that have a neurological condition such as a traumatic brain injury, stroke, or cerebral palsy (CP). Athletes are categorized into four classes based on their impairment level from FT5 to FT8. Teams are currently only allowed to have one FT8 player on the field at a time and must have at least two FT5 or FT6 players on the field.
"The players, coaches and staff have made me a better person and a better soccer player. We have worked hard all summer in the gym and on the field," Mayhugh added. "There is no ceiling as to what this team can accomplish and I'm buzzing just to get out there."
The U.S. PNT heads to the World Championships touting a four-match unbeaten streak during which they garnered a plus-18 goal difference. June saw the team travel to South America to face Chile and come away with two big victories: 6-0 and 10-0. In July, the team hosted its first home matches since 2014 against Canada in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., scoring two positive results with a 2-2 draw and 3-1 victory.
"To be given the opportunity to wear the crest and represent my country on the world stage is something I have dreamed of since I first started playing soccer," Mayhugh added. "I think it's something every athlete strives for and not many are given a chance to do so. That is something I will never take for granted."