Everyone has something in their life that they consider a "passion." For some, it's what they do for a living, for others, it's an activity such as cooking or writing. For many, that passion is sport.
Sport taps into the basic human instinct of competitiveness, of being better than others and bettering yourself. Whether it's being part of a football team or running a marathon, sport challenges all of us in various ways.
There are good times. There are bad times.
Marathon runners strive to better their own personal bests.
Football teams aim to play better, win more and be the most successful they can be. For the most part, the bad times are limited to losing games or failing to reach certain goals.
But for some, the losses are more than just statistical. For the unfortunate few, sport can make their daily life change forever.
I'm talking about those who suffer life-changing injuries while pursuing their passion.
These moments, when and wherever they happen, never seem to be horrific the instant they happen. However, the impact they leave on those closest to the victim is impossible to miss.
Take the story of American high school hockey starlet Jack Jablonski. Jack (or "Jabs" as he was known to friends and family) had everything going for him. He was popular, smart and a stellar hockey player for the Benilde-St. Margaret Red Knights.
It all looked perfect.
It took just one moment to turn Jack's life upside down.
Checked from behind by two players from Wayzata, Jack was left with a severed spinal cord and two fractured vertebrae. He was told by doctors he would never walk—or skate—again.
Upon hearing this story, the local community went into a state of shock. Tributes and support rallies were held around Benilde-St. Margaret school with students wearing all white in various events planned to show support for Jack's family.
When I read his story last week, I'm not ashamed to say I felt emotional. It is so difficult for me to imagine the massive impact this had on the Jablonski family and the local community, but it really got me to understand how quickly things can be taken away from you.
How would you react if you or someone close to you lost the ability to walk? Lost the ability to complete basic actions like getting out of bed or dressing yourself? Realizing that this is the reality the Jablonski family faced, made me think about all of this and really impacted my view of the world.
People often take for granted their ability to go out for a run or go and play pick-up basketball down on the black tops. For those who have this ripped from their lives, it is difficult to comprehend.
Jack Jablonski's story is but the latest in a long history of life-changing injuries.
They have happened to high-profile athletes—Eric LeGrand of Rutgers University to name one—but they are all too often suffered by young, up-and-coming players who are far from reaching their true potential and far from living out lifelong dreams of playing for their favorite teams or alongside their idols.
Everyone has that calling, the dream that they want to chase. Can you comprehend not being able to do that ever again?
The outpouring of support from the Benilde-St. Margaret community and the wider North American sports family is nothing short of heart warming. Already a fund has been set up by Jack's family to help them cope with the financial side of adjusting to Jack's life in a wheelchair.
Many NHL figures have signed the visitor's book on the Jablonski fund website, sending their condolences and best wishes to the family.
Hockey has had more than its fair share of these injuries. Whether it is a byproduct of a physical, contact-filled sport or something that could be addressed via the rule book, it does not matter—these accidents happen.
Take Travis Roy as an example. Travis was an exceptional talent on the ice, his talents earned him a dream athletic scholarship to Boston University.
Disaster struck just 11 seconds into his BU debut. He went to check University of North Dakota's Mitch Vig, who swerved to avoid, and Roy slid headlong into the boards. The awkward impact cracked two vertebrae, leaving Roy in a wheelchair for life, paralyzed from the neck down.
No amount of rule change or protective gear can ever completely rule out these types of freak accidents. That is part of sport and is why humans find sport so intense.
The outpouring of grief was immense, as it was for Jack Jablonski. Thousands of letters of support were received by the family including one from then President Bill Clinton. Local people held benefits and auctions, even a phone-a-thon, to raise money to help his family cope with their now altogether different future.
Despite all of the hardship and suffering of the victims and their families, they all show incredible belief that their situation will improve. For me, they show the most amazing determination and will to not let their lives become sad and dark places and to keep looking at the positive side of their horrible situation and come out smiling.
Travis and his family have not let themselves be defined by his injury, instead he and his family set up the Travis Roy Foundation to help spinal cord injury survivors and to provide funding for treatment research. To date, the foundation has distributed more than $2.5 million in grants and to various research projects and institutions.
Roy now makes a living as a public speaker, giving talks on disability in sport and on living with a disability. In a recent appearance, he talked about how his injury taught him the true value of various things in his life. "I can still laugh," Roy said. "I can still cry. I can still enjoy the people around me. And you tell me what's more important than that."
As people, we should not have to suffer such horrendous setbacks in life to realize what is most important to us. Reading about Jack and Travis has been enough to challenge my priorities and cherish what I have rather than complain about what I don't. I am starting to hold little things like enjoying a walk in the sunshine or a trip to the beach in higher regard than before, realizing that they can be taken away from you in just 11 seconds.
Jack Jablonski's family have set up a foundation in his name to help generate funds for his future medical care. Click here to visit the website.
Travis Roy set up a foundation in his name to help spinal cord injury survivors. Click here to visit the website.
And finally, here is the website of the Foundation for Spinal Cord Injury, Prevention, Care & Cure. They do a fantastic job in helping to produce new breakthroughs in spinal cord-related medicine.
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