The Legend of Odaine
Well-Traveled Stingers Defender Survives Medical Scare and Racism with Hard Work and Faith
It isn’t easy to reach the professional level in soccer, with the obstacles that need to be overcome often relentless and unforgiving. Odaine Demar’s story does not break from that reality.
After battling racism in Germany, becoming injured before vital qualification matches for the Jamaican youth national team, rediscovering his faith in God in a tiny West Virginian town and recovering following the diagnosis of a potentially fatal heart defect, the 21-year-old has finally regained some normalcy in his turbulent career—and he did so by playing a game wearing Concordia maroon.
On Friday night, Odaine debuted for the Stingers men’s soccer team in a 1-1 draw against the Université de Montréal Carabins. The Stingers are the 10th team he has played for in his eight-year career.
“I’m a bit unfit though, man,” said Demar. “[In] the second half, it showed a bit.”
Returning to the soccer field was not always a guarantee for the defender after he discovered he had pericarditis, a chronic heart problem, during a game with a semi-professional Canadian club almost a year ago.
“Halfway through the game, my heart just stopped beating,” said Demar. “I fell to the ground and I couldn’t breathe for a good 10, 15 seconds.”
The medical staff responded quickly that day. Luckily for the former Jamaica under-20 national team player, two separate cardiologists cleared him to play once more, including one in Montreal a week prior to his first game back.
Rigorous physical activity is still a life-threatening risk, but Demar recognizes the symptoms and understands the consequences.
“I know my limits,” said Demar. “And even if I do push past my limits, as stupid as it sounds, what better way to die than on a soccer field.”
Born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, Demar first discovered soccer when his family moved to England.
Following their time in England, Demar and his family relocated to Canada, which became a second, adopted home for the teenage talent. It was in cities like Vancouver and Ottawa that he made connections and contacts that would send him around the world.
His first trip abroad alone was to Germany. Through a partnership program in Vancouver, Demar trialed with lower division teams SG Wattenscheid 09 and FC Schewinfurt 05, and earned spots on their respective under-19 academy teams.
Financially, Demar experienced no problems as his youth contract meant the clubs paid for his food, housing and general expenses. It was the social life and culture that his employers struggled to assist him with.
“Everything was different there—the football, the people, the language barrier was obviously a problem and stuff,” said Demar. “It was kind of my first time being away from home, so it was rough for me.”
If dealing with cultural differences were not enough, the inhumanity of racism became prevalent in the teenage Jamaican’s day-to-day existence.
“I want to be very professional [in commenting on the experience], but it was rough because where I was, it was not very interracial,” said Demar. “When I walked down the street, people were staring at me and saying stuff.
“I’ve been through it a lot, even here in Canada, but [what] I got there was just emotionless.”
To make matters worse, his teammates tried to repeatedly injure him in training, and senior members of the team told him to “get used to” the rough treatment. It was time to go home.
Following a stint in Ottawa, Demar left for Sweden and played for Gamla Upsala SK and trained with IK Sirius.
“Everyone [in Sweden] was as friendly as they are here in Canada,” said Demar.
However, an easier transition culturally did not translate into a new, permanent home. As an individual of religious faith, Demar knew it was time to leave and set his priorities straight.
“I was so caught up in the life of a footballer,” said Demar. “I would say back then it was more about the girls and the money.”
In 2013, a talk with his pastor led him to a small town in West Virginia, which surprisingly became reminiscent of Jamaica. For one summer, Demar played for the Southern West Virginia King’s Warriors soccer club.
“It almost took me back home being in West Virginia because it reminded me so much of Jamaica,” said Demar. “It was so peaceful and relaxing, and it just felt so great being there.”
Strict discipline meant players were not only responsible for playing soccer but helping the community with activities like reading at a retirement home or painting houses. What was the “most peaceful environment” allowed Demar to experience the “best summer of his life.”
Not many 21-year-old university students can match the experiences the Jamaican defender has. Some of Demar’s new teammates, like fourth-year defender Stephen Meterissian, still have yet to hear all of the stories he has to tell.
“Maybe over a beer, we’ll have that discussion at the end of the season,” said Meterissian. “He’s more of a guy that’s not quiet, but more reserved, and he does his work on the field.”
Education is as important to Demar as soccer. With a renewed passion for religion, he is pursuing a pastoral ministry certificate at Concordia.
Hopefully, if all goes to plan, Demar will have his certificate packed alongside a plane ticket to his next professional endeavor in either Europe or North America this time next year.
“This is definitely my year to get back to the level I was at, say, two, three years ago maybe,” said Demar.
Already a Canadian citizen and in contact with the Canadian Soccer Association, the former Jamaican youth international is also hopeful for a call-up to his adopted nation in the future.
“I definitely believe I can play for the Canadian national team,” said Demar.