A new goal: Richmond-area soccer coach overcomes stroke and learns to walk again

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Soccer families in the Richmond area know all about Joe Farrell. He served as Chesterfield United’s Technical Director for 16 years, and he says he is lucky to be alive and kicking a ball again after suffering a stroke in May of this year.

Farrell walked out of the hospital on his own after being in recovery for months.

“When I got out, I started crying – it was the most incredible thing,” he said. “My 4 year old, who I hadn’t seen in months, came running toward me and gave me the biggest hug and the biggest kiss and I walked.”

But the path to walking out of the hospital was not easy for him.

Earlier this year, Farrell was playing with his son in his room before he closed his eyes and woke up in the hospital on a ventilator.

“The doctor calmed me down and the first thing he said to me was you’ve had a stroke,” he said. “You’ve had a brain bleed. We are going to have an operation and then you’ll be fine. I just couldn’t move my left side. He said unfortunately you’re paralyzed from the waist down.”

Farrell, 44, who has been a coach for over 24 years, came to America from Scotland at 20 years old.

And his mind raced straight to the field.

“Am I gonna play soccer again? And he said, well, it’s gonna be a lot of work but we will get there in the end,” Farrell said. “Soccer is my life. I have been playing since I could walk. Soccer has been good to me. It’s the only job I’ve ever had.”

But he would quickly learn that playing soccer again wasn’t his only motivation to recover.

“I said ‘where’s my son?’ to my wife. And she said he can’t come in.”

During his recovery, he wasn’t allowed to see his son in person. Because of the pandemic, guests were not allowed inside of the hospital to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The doctor said he could see his son again when he walks out of the building.

That’s all Joe needed to hear. He immediately kicked it into high gear.

He did extra physical therapy with the help of medical professionals at Johnston-Willis Hospital so he could kick a ball and see his son again.

“I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna walk out of here,'” Farrell said. “I may not walk gracefully, but I’m gonna walk out of here. And I did.”

His wife kept a journal by his side to record the time he spent in the hospital to help him cognitively get back to himself and keep his memories alive.

Farrell’s stroke prompted the soccer community to reach out in several ways of support — even creating a GoFundMe that raised $35,700.

His business partner and former Richmond Kicker, Gregory Simmonds, said that Farrell’s impact was felt across the sport.

“It shook us up. The whole soccer community came behind him. He’s just one of our brothers that needed our help in a very surprising time,” Simmonds said.

Farrell says that now he will never take the little things in life for granted again.

Farrell is currently the Executive Director of FutsalRVA and General Manager of Own Touch Soccer.

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