Alex Lee's recovery gets assist from Maryland soccer teammates

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 25, 2010; 12:44 AM

Alex Lee can remember everything about the night of Oct. 10 except for those few horrific minutes that his memory has mercifully erased.

So it takes a teammate to fill in what Lee can't: How he darted halfway across Connecticut Avenue NW ahead of his friends as the crosswalk signal blinked; how he scampered into the next lane without seeing the car; and how he was tossed onto the windshield and into the air before crashing onto the pavement head first as traffic screeched to a halt.

"Do you know where you are?" Billy Cortes, Lee's teammate on the Maryland men's soccer team, asked as he patted Lee's chest until he came to. "Do you know who I am?"

Cortes and another teammate had been on the sidewalk, scanning traffic for an opening to sprint across the street, when he heard the impact. He called 911 and rushed to Lee's side. Help is coming, he said. Just relax. And he kept asking questions to keep Lee conscious until the ambulance came.

The accident cost Lee, Maryland's starting right back and a 2007 first-team All-Met at Magruder High, the rest of the 2009 season. It was among several setbacks suffered by the then-defending NCAA champion Terrapins, who lost midfielder Doug Rodkey to a broken foot at midseason and hobbled through with other key starters battling injury as well.

But with his players back to health, nine returning starters, an enviable class of recruits and rare depth, Maryland Coach Sasho Cirovski believes this year's team should contend for an NCAA title.

No resurgence, however, is as remarkable as that of Lee's, whose ordeal offers a window into one of the less-chronicled benefits of playing college sports, in addition to a scholarship and potential path to the pros: a shared purpose and identity.

In Lee's case these last 10 months, that has played nearly as big a role in his recovery as the rapid emergency response and the care he received at George Washington University Hospital, where he underwent skull surgery the night of the accident.

Soccer was all Lee thought about, talked about and cared about upon waking up the next morning, with no idea why he was in the hospital. Told he'd been hit by a car, he blurted out: "Please don't tell my coach!" then, "Can I play soccer?"

"He just kept saying, 'I just want to play soccer,' " recalled his mother, Diane Lee, a science teacher at Magruder. "He was ready to cry, I could see that. And he kept saying: 'All I want to do is see my team. I just want to be with my team.' "

'He takes a lot of risks'

Today, the only visible trace of the accident is the crescent-shaped scar on the right side of Lee's head, running from his crown to earlobe. It's only discernible because his hair is cropped close. The 33 staples that kept the incision closed are long gone.

Apart from that, nothing made Lee stand out from the two dozen players on the field as the Terrapins launched into two-a-day training sessions last week in advance of their three exhibitions that precede the Sept. 3 home opener against Michigan State, ranked 24th in the coaches' preseason poll.

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