Ryan Straschnitzki's road to recovery has been long and it has provided many twists and turns along the way.
The now 21-year-old was paralyzed from the chest down two years ago when he was a member of the Humboldt Broncos Junior A hockey team. They were struck by a semi-trailer as they were on their way to Nipawin for a playoff game. The crash claimed the lives of 16 people while 13 were injured -- many severely -- including Straschnitzki.
Ryan shattered his T2 and T3 vertebrae, he suffered internal bleeding in his lungs, pelvis area, and his skull. He also broke his clavicle on the left side and had other bruising and scars. Before the accident, Ryan had 14 points during the regular season and playoffs.
About a year and a half after the accident, Ryan travelled to Thailand to undergo surgery. The surgery was about four hours and doctors put an epidural stimulator on Ryan's T10 vertebrae which send electrical currents from the brain to muscles.
"A doctor that goes to my physio clinic underwent the surgery and he was able to move his muscles again," said Straschnitzki. "I figured it was the best thing for me so I went forward with it and got it done."
After a successful surgery, Ryan spent about 45 days in Thailand doing programming and working on moving his muscles again. When he flew home, the extensive physio continued about three to four times per week and he's able to walk now with assistance.
"It's honestly been a whirlwind, it blew up right away when the crash happened and the whole world had their eyes on us," offered Straschnitzki. "We appreciated all of the support that poured in."
Ryan and his family had to live in a hotel for about nine months as renovations had to be completed at the family home to make it liveable for Ryan whose life was changed after the April crash in 2018.
The 21-year-old is now back on the ice, however, not playing hockey. Although his goal is to walk without assistance moving forward, Ryan says it's all about being patient as this is a very long process. That's where sledge hockey comes in.
His goal is to ultimately make the Canadian men's sledge hockey team and it would appear that he could very well be on his way to achieving that goal as he has already cracked the Alberta provincial team. He's been playing the game for about a year and a half now and he's on the ice three to four times per week on top of the time he spends in the gym working on the muscles needed to be an elite player.
"I just sort of started playing the game for fun, it was just something to do," said Straschnitzki. "It was a pretty big accomplishment for me making Team Alberta and I know I have a long way to go, but I'm ready for the challenge ahead."
In another great story, Ryan's teammate, Layne Matechuk has recently been skating on the ice and even shooting pucks. Layne spent about a month in a coma after the accident. Since, he has had to learn to talk and walk again and now, he's back on the ice skating and shooting.
"That's absolutely incredible. We all have our own story and own path to recovering," ended Straschnitzki. "He is a great friend of mine and he's such a great guy. It was amazing to see how hard he has worked to get back on the ice and I'm really happy for him. I hope one day we can get back on the ice together."