Daniel Haber doesn’t need a wake-up call anymore to remind him about something he referred to as “good fortune.”
Ask him to shave his head, or talk about life as a 12-year old, and then watch his response.
Eight years ago, the Toronto-born Haber was dealing with a golf-size lump on his forehead that was also dangerously close to his brain. It created enough anxiety and worries that doctors strongly recommended to his family to deal with the problem – and quickly.
Just five days after his birthday, he went through extensive surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children that not only removed the cyst and some of his skull, but titanium plates and staples were used to patch him up.
Haber talked about his scar the other day, the one that runs from ear to ear across the top of his head but is only noticeable with one of those buzz cuts that seem to be popular with some teens at the barbershop.
“It’s a scary thought, but if they didn’t move quickly I am convinced there could have been brain damage,” said Haber in a telephone conversation from Ithaca, N.Y, where he attends prestigious Cornell University.
“I’m very lucky, and it’s something I think about a great deal.”
Haber was so grateful to the medical staff at SickKid’s that the least he said he could do was offer to volunteer at SickKid’s last summer. His preference was the same area of the hospital that helped him.
“I was told they have some kind of policy that prevents former patients from volunteering in the same area,” said Haber. “So they put me in the cancer ward to support kids and try to brighten up their day. It was important to me – meant so much – because that hospital likely saved my life.”
Times have changed for Haber, and now the focus is on his foot.
A soccer player, he’s kicking up a storm – and in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
On the 26-member Cornell roster, with players from across the United States, China and Zimbabwe, he’s the only Canadian. But that’s not what’s stirring up all the attention – it’s the fact that he’s one of the top players in the NCAA.
“I love this game – all those days of playing at the club level with Spartacus and winning three consecutive Ontario championships,” said Haber. “As a kid, that’s where it all started and look where I am now.”
He leads Cornell, nicknamed the Big Red, with 17 goals and seven assists in 14 games. Four of his goals were game winners for the 13-1 team, and he’s been a huge factor in turning around a dull and sluggish Ivy League program that was 1-15 in 2008.
The Big Red has the second best record among NCAA Division I teams in the country; it’s ranked number 15 in the country by the National Coaches Association of America. Earlier in the season, the coaches ranked the Big Red 10th, the team’s highest position since 1995.
“I have worked very hard and dedicated myself to training,” said Haber, who is now in the third year in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“I treat [soccer] as a job and know, like in anything else, I have to do well to succeed. I’m not big or physical, but play smart and take advantage of the opportunities. Right now, I’m not sure what lies ahead, but the dream is to play at the professional level.”
Getting to Cornell involved a Toronto connection: Polish-born Jaro Zawislan, now in his fourth year coaching the Big Red, a graduate of the University of Toronto and a soccer coach with great credentials.
“Jaro has pushed my work ethic, my intensity and getting to the next level,” said Haber. “It’s not good enough to just score, but to stay hungry, always stay focused, challenge and play smart. I am a much better player because of him.”
Haber, who played for Canada at the 2009 Maccabiah Games in Israel, is also six goals shy of the Cornell single-season record for goals in a year; he leads the NCAA in points, points-per-game and goals-per-game. He has won the Ivy League Player of the Week award, but all that falls behind his plan to help Cornell make it to the NCAA’s College Cup final on Dec. 9 in Hoover, Ala.
Surprisingly, Haber hasn’t even as much as got a buzz from Canada’s struggling national soccer team.