Ben Lindau owes it to himself to be the best soccer player he can be. He also owes it to a younger version of himself.
When he was 11, Lindau woke up in the middle of the night and hit the back of his head on his bed’s headboard. The next day, Lindau went swimming and didn’t feel right.
It turned out he had suffered a stroke. One theory he shared is that hitting the headboard might have caused a bleed on the right size of his brain, and when it scabbed over and broke off during swimming, it blocked blood flow to his brain.
Lindau, who grew up in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood but now lives in New York and works in real estate development, always played sports before the injury and had chosen to focus on soccer when he was in fifth grade. Then after the stroke, he used soccer to motivate himself as he went through physical therapy.
“In a way, it was like the biggest blessing in disguise that I had this taken away from me,” Lindau said. “On top of that, my commitment to the sport is that much stronger just because I know what it’s like not to be able to do it.”
That commitment has taken Lindau far.
Now 24, Lindau will be part of the U.S. Men’s Cerebral Palsy National Team that will play at the Parapan American Games next month in Santiago, Chile. Since 2017, Lindau has been part of the team — which consists of players with cerebral palsy or who have had traumatic brain injuries — and has represented the U.S. at the 2019 and 2022 International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football World Cups. It’s a 7-on-7 game and played on a field slightly smaller than regulation.
Lindau doesn’t take his spot on the team for granted.
“It’s massive,” said Lindau, a central midfielder. “As a little kid playing sports, you always aspire to get to the highest level and representing your country is the pinnacle of that dream. Every opportunity I get to do it means the world to me.”
When he was a junior in high school at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, Lindau saw an advertisement for the U.S. Paralympic (now CP) Men’s National Team that was headed to the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. Lindau reached out to coach Stuart Sharp and had a trial in December 2016, joining the team the following year.
Since then, Lindau has used much of his spare time to train with the team. He has high hopes for the upcoming tournament, both for himself and the roster as a whole.
And he hopes he’ll once again be making someone else proud.
“You can’t really have an event like this without some reflection,” Lindau said. “I’m not the most sentimental person, but certainly I feel like I’m doing myself justice to my 11-year-old self to have worked this hard to get where I am.”