Young Rok not giving up
© AFP

2011 will be an unforgettable year for Jeju United striker Shin Young-Rok, who suffered a heart attack during a K-League match against Daegu on 8 May. The 24-year-old was rushed to a nearby hospital in Jeju city, where he stayed until he finally woke up from a coma almost 50 days after the incident.

While he was sleeping, his club struggled to repeat the feat they achieved last year when they finished runners-up against all the odds. Their initial goal of this season, to finish at least in top six to make the play-offs, had seemed already elusive before Shin collapsed on the pitch, but his team-mates could not just give up the fight as their No10 held on to continue his own battle of survival.

As it turned out, Shin was released from the hospital at the end of June and moved to another medical centre in Seoul for rehabilitation treatments while United finished ninth in the regular season. In this particular case, however, football was put into perspective against the backdrop of life and death, as Shin made an emotional return to Jeju for their final home match of the season on 22 October.

There he received a standing ovation from the stands as he waved his hands, though a bit uncomfortably, on a convertible parading around the pitch. A fitting welcome for the hero of the day, Jeju came from behind to defeat Incheon 2-1 to end their eight-match winless streak.

While his team-mates had to deal with the emptiness after a premature end to the season, Shin would have to endure probably the busiest and yet the warmest winter of his life. He made a surprise appearance at the K-League Annual Awards earlier this month to hand the special contribution award to Jeju’s rehab trainer Kim Jang-Yeol, who had a crucial role in saving Shin’s life back in May.

“Hi, I am Shin Young Rok,” he murmured. “All because of you I could wake up and stand up. Thank you.” That was all he could say after a deep breath on the stage.

It looks as though he still needs more time to get back to his normal life and to come back on the pitch. But no matter how long it takes, his team-mates and fans will be eagerly and patiently waiting for his sweet return.