There is joy in his voice and his trademark massive grin has returned to Raphael Ohin’s face. And he’ll certainly be the first to admit there were many moments over the last eight months which featured the exact opposite.
First the news of the moment: Ohin – the Ghanaian born midfielder so proud to call Winnipeg home – will be back with Valour FC in 2023 after having his contract renewed.
That alone says something of his value to the team, not just as a player that was there at the beginning when the Canadian Premier League was born in 2019, but now as a veteran voice with a club that will see its share of change next season.
Yet, Ohin’s story is bigger than that now because what he has been through in 2022 could have — perhaps should have — broken him. Rewind to the first day of Valour training last February when Ohin, coming off a solid 2021 campaign, suffered a torn ACL in his left knee that required surgery.
What then followed was akin of a trek to hell and back.
“I had never had surgery before, and other players were telling me it was going to be a long process,” said Ohin in a chat with valourfootball.club. “I knew it was going to suck – that’s what everyone kept telling me – and that it was going to be a lonely road with days where I am up and days when I’m going to be down and frustrated. And there were.
“But I just came to the point where I said to myself, ‘Whatever I have to do to get back on the field, I’m going to do it because this is the sport I love.’ There was a mental shift for me.
“You can decide to cry yourself to sleep and keep worrying and being sad. Or you can do the work to be back on the field. I did what I had to do. I trained and I trained some more and then I trained again. The gym became like my second home, and I took it very seriously. Hopefully I’ll get the green light from the doctors to be back on the field soon.”
The Ohin that returns to Valour in ’23 will be different than the man we saw in 2021, when he scored his first goal for the club, piled up 2,135 minutes in 28 appearances and lived up to his nickname – ‘The Rhino’ – for his physical and spirited presence in the middle of the park.
“There was no doubt he was going to be a big piece in our midfield in 2022 and a player who has very unique characteristics and we were excited to see how those would come to life in what we were trying to build,” said Valour FC GM and head coach Phillip Dos Santos. “As a footballer he doesn’t leave many doubts. He has unique qualities in his ability to cover ground in the midfield, to recover balls, to press the opposition, to play on the front foot… those are all characteristics that are important for us.
“But what Raph showed through the injury process was he treated it as an opportunity to mature. I know that a player doesn’t un-learn how to play football because of an injury and I see how he has been progressing physically throughout the injury with his mindset and his mentality. When I speak to Raph now, he is more mature, more complete as a player. Sometimes adversity leads you to grow in other parts of who you are as an athlete. Raph really took it like that.
“He’s a big part of this club as one of the players that started here from Year 1 and what he means and represents for this club is important to us,” Dos Santos added. “This coming year will be one where we expect him to take even more responsibility through his playing and also what he does in the community.”
That’s a critical next step for Ohin, now 27. He’s not only one of the club’s most recognizable players but has found confidence in now being heard in the locker room.
“There came a time this year when I felt I couldn’t just be quiet anymore, and I wanted to use my voice more,” Ohin said. “After the captains would speak, sometimes I would step in and say my piece. A few guys said, ‘Raph, we didn’t know you had a voice like this’… I can’t be quiet anymore. I’m one of the veterans on the team and I think my voice can be important, especially for the new guys who are coming in and I’m happy to be in that position.”
That is the voice of experience; the voice of someone has struggled through some difficult, dark moments and come out stronger. Ohin, in essence, is a walking and now talking example of that which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
“This last year, now that I’m getting through it, actually helped me out mentally,” Ohin said. “Stepping away from the game and just watching from the stands is difficult. It can break you.
“But I’ve also learned to not take things for granted and I think that’s helped me grow as a player. Today you can be playing, but tomorrow you don’t know.
“This city and Valour FC gave me the opportunity to dream again. That’s why when I wear that Valour jersey, I know I’m doing this not just for myself but also for my city. I wear that jersey with pride and play with my heart because of that opportunity and this city.
“I’m really proud of myself for the work I put in and now I want to see what’s next. There’s a fire in me. I’m dying to be on the field again. I’m happy about it, super-excited.
“This is going to be a new chapter in my story.”