October 27, 2009

Ibrahim's pacemaker helps the beat go on for Gauchos

Oct. 27, 2009

Those marketing schemers at UCSB should get Oscar Goldman from the old "Bionic Man" TV series to do the intros for their men's soccer team.

"Gentlemen, we can rebuild them," he could say. "We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first bionic soccer players.

"Waid Ibrahim and David Walker will be those men. Better than they were before. Better ... stronger ... faster."

Ibrahim is playing with a pacemaker in his chest. Walker spent a month this season with four rods holding his fractured right hand together.

Neither of the speedy fowards has missed even one match for the sixth-ranked Gauchos.

"He's as electric as it gets," coach Tim Vom Steeg said of Ibrahim, a sophomore forward from Ghana.

No kidding. The defibrillator that was implanted into his chest four years ago revived a soccer career that Ibrahim had been told was over because of a heart defect.

Walker's season, meanwhile, flashed before his eyes when he broke all four metacarpal bones in his right hand while going up against Loyola Marymount's goalkeeper for a 50-50 ball on Sept. 13.

"There were quite a few people who told me that I should sit out," Walker said. "But it's my senior season. I can't do that to myself.

"I'm in-season mode, I'm in a zone, and I can't really check out."

The two Bionic Gauchos scored the goals on Saturday that gave UCSB its 2-0 victory over Cal State Fullerton.

Vom Steeg called it a "breakout game" for Ibrahim, who has scored four goals with two assists this season.

"That's what we've been waiting for all year," he said of Saturday's explosive play. "There's a lot of talk about his heart, and this and that. Well, a lot of that for him is thinking about it.

"Tonight, he didn't think about it. Tonight, he just ran."

And unleashed a powerful shot that seemed to come from a striker twice his size.

"That's what I need to bring more of to this game," Ibrahim said. "It's not only that I'm fast, but I can use both feet equally, so I can go both sides.

"It's a second gift that I need to appreciate more, and make sure to show more."

Few college soccer players run faster with a ball than the 5-foot-7, 140-pound forward. But a malfunctioning right ventricle in his heart can also leave him feeling run down.

"It happens sometimes in training, and he'll tell us," Vom Steeg said. "What usually ends up happening is he gets very lethargic and just can't catch his breath.

"We're just careful. We're probably overly protective. He wasn't able to get to the end of last season when he played at City College. They used him so much as a workhorse earlier in the year that halfway through the season, he just wore out."

Ibrahim said he's been helped by an adjustment that his doctor made with the pacemaker.

"I feel safe with it," he said. "I don't want to be running around the field, thinking that anything can happen. But with this in my chest, I feel safe running around, so it's all good."

Vom Steeg still sensed that Ibrahim was holding back throughout UCSB's first 14 games.

"We've only seen that in bursts," he said of his explosive play against Fullerton. "What we've told him was, 'Whether or not you give us 30 minutes, just give us them at that speed. Don't jog your way through the game. Don't try to get through the game and try to see how long we can make it through.' "

Ibrahim admitted that he had "been playing soft because of my condition" throughout much of this season.

"But I guess it's that time of the year when I need to really get it going," he said. "It's so close to the end of the year that I'm not scared to be kicked out anymore.

"We have five games left, so I'm going to go really hard, finish hard, and I'll have winter to rest."

The Gauchos (11-3-1, 5-1-0 Big West Conference) will need him on Wednesday at Harder Stadium when they try to avenge their lone league defeat to Cal State Northridge.

Vom Steeg had been limiting Ibrahim to 60 minutes per game, but he gave him a few more on Saturday.

"We didn't play him a lot early in the season, but we're at the stage now where he's feeling fresh," Vom Steeg said. "It'll be interesting to see how he responds, having played the number of minutes that he did."

Walker leads UCSB with six goals even though he's been playing with the fractured hand for 11 games. He admitted that it took awhile to get used to the imbalance caused by the 10 extra pounds of metal on his right side.

"The first game after getting injured, we were up at Wisconsin, and I took a shot that went just three yards," Walker said. "I was thinking, 'Aw, that's not right!'

"Every time (the dressing) got changed, I had to spend 45 minutes to an hour, just trying to figure out how to shoot again. It was pretty frustrating."

The rods and cast were removed two weeks ago, although he still plays with a brace and large wrap.

"I noticed (against Fullerton) that I was able to run a lot better, which is a big part of my game," he said. "I'm still really timid going to my right. I'm scared that I'm going to fall and break it again.

"It's been more mental than physical, but I'm dealing with it."

The mind, after all, can race just as fast as the legs, even for the Bionic Man.

Mark Patton's column appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail: mpatton@newspress.com

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