My amputation was the same day as the OHL draft I had planned to be a part of. After my surgery – and throughout the next five months of chemotherapy – I had no idea who I was or what I was ever going to be. Despite all the incredible people I was surrounded by, I still felt isolated from the world.
One of the benefits of that, though, was I got to watch classic hockey rivalries all the time. It was a chance to escape reality. It became my religion. Being a Sakic fan, the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry of the late ‘90s was always my favourite. Watching those games helped me get through some of the darkest moments of that time. Hockey was always there to take my attention away, to give me hope and something to believe in – even when I wasn’t sure I’d ever play again.
The hardest part? It wasn’t overcoming cancer, or the amputation. No, I had all the love, support and resources in the world to fight that battle.
I had my hero, Terry Fox, whose legacy allowed me to survive.
I had my doctors, nurses and other medical staff. Their magic literally saved my life.
And I had my family, friends and teammates. They were by my side every step of the way, literally. My mom, dad and sister must’ve made thousands of trips between Forest and London that year. It’s one of those questions that you can’t seem to find an answer for – How would I ever be able to thank them for what they’ve done for me? I love my family more than I’ll ever be able to articulate with words.
No, the hardest part was overcoming myself. Pulling myself from the coldest, darkest corner and deciding that I wasn’t done. I was just getting started, and I sure as hell don’t believe in doing things halfway. I’d been deprived of hockey for almost two years with a few exceptions. So I jumped head first into something new. A sport that’s almost exactly the same, but different. A sport that reignited the fire inside of me. Something that I could become great at.
That’s when I started para hockey, after being introduced to it through former coaches.
It felt strange, starting a sport identical in most ways. It was a sport I’d played my entire life, but I had to completely adapt the way in which I played, without the use of my legs.
The transition felt more technical than anything – having to learn a new skill set that included my upper body and torso, so I could apply that to the knowledge, ability and instincts I’d carried forward from my stand-up days.
It was humbling, and it was hard as hell. So I adapted – my training, my mindset, my perspective.
Nine years later, it is still humbling, and it always will be. That’s part of the reason I love it. Those constant roadblocks that present themselves and require you to learn, adapt and overcome.
Especially after I thought my hockey dreams were over, para hockey was exactly what I needed. After feeling lost, it provided me with a new sense of direction.
It wasn’t just a chance for me to play again; I wanted to play for Team Canada. I’ve never been interested in just participating. I want to be the best in the world. So I did what a kid from a blue-collar family does ... I got to work.