DURHAM, N.H. – Chris Pinkham’s goal secured the University of New Hampshire’s third straight America East title. The junior’s goal was a clinical piece of attacking play. A thunderous strike into the top netting. This meant an automatic bid for the Wildcats into the NCAA Tournament, but for Pinkham, it meant a great deal more.  

The forward left Concord for Durham after an accomplished high school career. Despite the August heat, his welcome to Wildcat country was a cold one. During Pinkham’s first preseason game in 2017, he broke his ankle and suffered a third-degree sprain. The injury sidelined him for the season. After months of recovery and work to get back on the field, a second injury, this time a torn tendon in his quad, sent Pinkham back to the sideline.  

Any athlete will tell you that the most challenging part of recovery is mental. Pinkham is no exception. The back-to-back seasons ended by injury took their toll.  

“I remember not being able to play in the championship game, not being able to play throughout the season and that was obviously devastating. It was really hard for me,” explained Pinkham. 

The injuries could have tapped Pinkham of his energy, of his competitive drive. Instead, they motivated the Wildcat to push even harder than before. He asked himself why the injuries happened. He put it on himself to come back stronger, faster and more durable than before.  

He’s always been a hard worker. Pinkham has never clocked out just because practice was over and describes himself as a guy who shows up and does extra. The junior practices on his own, and arranges workouts with teammates and friends. With the injuries, all that needed to be turned up another notch.  

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Pinkham went to work. He trained, recovered and grinded to be in the best shape of his life. When soccer came back, he was going to be ready. Pinkham had always gone the extra mile in his training. Now, he had to go the extra two.  

The team came back in the fall, but their season had to wait until the spring. This delay gave Pinkham vital time to recover but also presented new obstacles to overcome.  

“It’s definitely tough. It wears on you, especially as you kind of get into this pattern of doing the same thing day in day out,” said Pinkham.  

The same thing day in and day out is more for Pinkham than it is for most. The junior commutes from Concord every day. That means he’s out the door before 7 a.m. for COVID-19 testing and classes. He then bounces around campus, trying to find a spot to get some work done. Sometimes it’s academic and sometimes it’s athletic. But the grind doesn’t stop. From 1:30-3:30 p.m. he’s got practice and after that he’s off to work as a coach for Seacoast United until 6 p.m. Then he’s back to Concord for dinner and homework. The next day starts it all over again. It can be draining, but Pinkham said he pushes through.  

“It’s just reminding yourself of what you’re doing it for, of why you’re doing it. For me, I want to prove that hard work pays off. If you give up now, what have you done all this work for? What have you done it for if you just give up? It’s all for nothing. So, you know, you don’t give up. You just put your head down, keep going at it day in and day out.” 

Pinkham has been through the lows. It’s been a long road full of potholes. Finally, in his fourth year at UNH, all the work paid off. Pinkham bagged the winner in the AE championship game. The moment was one of pure joy and relief.  

“Getting that chance in the championship, scoring in the championship. It just kind of went full circle for me, and it was just really gratifying to kind of know that it’s taken me a while to get to full health and to be at a point where I can contribute. It was just, I don’t know, it was, it was just really great to be able to do that.” 

Photo courtesy of China Wong.