Overcoming Adversity With A Smile

Aronah Mukhtar (center) has overcome physical adversity in his senior season with a positive outlook and a smile.
Aronah Mukhtar (center) has overcome physical adversity in his senior season with a positive outlook and a smile.

Feature written by Concordia sports information student assistant David Youngs

Cobber Men's Soccer senior Aronah Mukhtar was gearing up to have the best season of his life. The 5-7 forward from Fargo was coming off a decorated 2018 campaign as he led Concordia in goals scored and was named to the MIAC All-Conference Team in recognition of his outstanding season. 

In hopes of having an even better 2019, Mukhtar spent the summer working harder than ever before. 

"The amount of work that I put in to prepare for (the season) was the most I've put in for the last three years," Mukhtar said. "I was ready for it to happen." 

But as the season began, Mukhtar began noticing an abnormal amount of pain in his muscles following practice and exercise. Enough pain to go in and get it checked out by trainers and doctors. 

What Mukhtar discovered would change his outlook on the rest of the season.

Medical staff discovered that Mukhtar had high Creatine Kinase (CK) levels. High CK levels make it more difficult for muscles to recover after exercise, causing great soreness and pain.

"Rest and hydration are the only solutions that I've been told," Mukhtar described. "No playing, no practice, no physical activity; just relax and drink water and Gatorade."

Aronah's injury has taken him away from the field a significant amount, as the senior captain has only been able to compete in five of the team's 14 games so far this season.

But if there's anyone who knows how to handle adversity, it's Mukhtar, whose "glass half-full" mentality has driven him through the season.

"You've got to stay positive, especially with adversity," Mukhtar said. "Obstacles are inevitable; everyone's going to face them. You've got to look forward."

Mukhtar admits that not being able to play much this season has been frustrating. However, he has taken a big picture approach to put the situation into perspective.

"My soccer season is important, it's the love of my life and soccer has been everything to me," Mukhtar said. "But I still have a long life ahead of me. My health is more important if I'm looking at things from a bird's eye view."

Despite his injury, Mukhtar still contributes heavily to the team, making it to as many practices as he can and supporting his teammates. And it hasn't gone unnoticed.

"He's always around giving whatever energy he can even though he often can't practice," fellow senior Noah Gjesdahl said. "He's still there supporting everyone and giving tips to whoever needs it."

Gjesdahl, who has played soccer with Mukhtar since 6th grade, can't speak highly enough about how Mukhtar has handled the situation.

"A lot of people, if they went through what he's been through, would go the other way and get negative and upset about the whole situation," Gjesdahl commented. "Obviously, he's having those feelings, but he's staying level and putting others before himself and being empathetic about what other people are going through. He's probably going through something harder than any of us are going through right now, but he still reaches out when other people need help. He's still there for all of us and is willing to do whatever we need."

Head Coach Ben Schneweis cites Mukhtar as both a vocal and example-based leader whose presence amongst the team is greatly valued.

"He's (the type of player who) shows up every day," Schneweis said. "He works incredibly hard every day; he treats his teammates really well. He does all the right things, and that's what makes this worse for all of us to watch. This kid has done everything that he's supposed to do, not just in the short window of dealing with this, but over his career."

While Mukhtar's time of the soccer field may be limited, he is still looking to use his strong work ethic and optimism to succeed in all assets of life.

"I'm going through each and every day just telling myself, 'Hey it's okay,' I'm not going to be on the soccer field, but I can excel in other areas," Mukhtar said. "Right now, my academics have been the best they've been in the last four years because I'm able to dedicate more time to my studies."

That "can-do" attitude, strong work ethic, and sense of optimism make Mukhtar someone that people gravitate towards.

"He's always been a really strong competitor, and as a teammate he has always been just a good guy to have around," Gjesdahl said. "He's never in a bad mood, he's always level, and he's willing to do everything he can for the team."

"He's great at resolving conflict, he's great at addressing issues, and great at showing younger players how to do that," Schneweis said.

Schneweis has watched Mukhtar compete since high school, where he coached the Davies Eagles standout on the Tri-City Storm Soccer Club. And while he's enjoyed watching Mukhtar grow on the field, he also is proud of the young man that Mukhtar has turned into.

"He's (Aronah) certainly become the player and person that we knew he could be, but nothing dramatic in terms of who he is. He's the same old Aronah, really thoughtful, really caring," Schneweis said. "And he's just become a more well-rounded version of that since he was 15, maybe more engaged and more purposeful. That's one of the coolest parts of my job."

Mukhtar credits Schneweis as someone who not only factored heavily into him attending Concordia, but as someone who has helped him through his current situation.

"He gets that he's not just coaching a bunch of young soccer players, he's helping young men turn into grown men," Mukhtar said. "I'm thankful for him in so many ways. For me to even get the chance to play at all (this year) is because of him. He's talked to the trainers and doctors to make connections, and he's put in so much effort to help me get what I want, more than I could ever ask for."

While things this season haven't turned out the way that he would have pictured them to, Mukhtar hope that others can learn from his situation.

"Smile and continue to talk positively to yourself," Mukhtar said. "Those positive thoughts turn into positive actions and will propel you forward no matter what the obstacle is."

And while his name may not be on the MIAC leaderboard this year for goals or assists, he will have strengthened a life skill that is more important than any number on a scoresheet; overcoming adversity.

"This is a minor obstacle in my life, but it's going to lead to a major comeback," Mukhtar added. "Living every single day with a smile on your face and a positive attitude is going to take you a long way."