Paralyzed Humboldt player getting used to the new normal

Ryan Straschnitzki focuses on physiotherapy and his dream of playing on the national sledge hockey team

Erika Burns knew something was wrong the day that a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos collided with a semi-trailer in rural Saskatchewan.

The 20-year-old had been dating Ryan Straschnitzki for about a month and had been texting him on his way to the playoff game in Nipawin, Sask., on April 6.

“He didn’t say bye or anything and I was wondering because it was getting kind of close to the time he starts getting ready and I wasn’t getting anything back,” Burns said.

“I was in a car with a couple of the other girlfriends on the team and they weren’t getting anything either so we were kind of wondering. Not long after that we got a call from one of the moms saying the bus was in an accident.”

RELATED: Paralyzed Humboldt Broncos player learns old skills after accident

At the time, Burns and her friends thought it was a fender bender. They then learned how serious it was — 16 people had died and 13 others, including Straschnitzki, were injured.

“Honestly, I didn’t really have much thought. I kind of just panicked and instantly started crying … Everybody in the car was. We really didn’t know what to think.”

Straschnitzki, who is 19, was paralyzed from the chest down. Now he’s focused on physiotherapy and his dream of playing on the national sledge hockey team. He asked Burns to move in with him and his family at the Wingate Hotel, dubbed the “Strazgate,” in his hometown of Airdrie north of Calgary.

Six months later, Burns is taking a business course at Bow Valley College in Calgary and has been Straschnitzki’s constant companion — including during a recent trip to a sports awards ceremony in Ottawa and a day spent touring Parliament Hill with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Despite the changes, she says he’s still the same guy she was set up with last March.

“It’s different but it’s easy enough. He kind of gets frustrated when I have to help him with stuff. He doesn’t feel like he should be needing that help but I always reassure him it’s not a problem,” Burns said.

“The best part is just being close to him, seeing him every day.”

Straschnitzki’s life has been a whirlwind the past six months and he realizes he needs somebody to help him.

“I mean obviously I need some people to rely on at some points but, for the most part, I’m becoming more independent, getting stronger and playing sledge hockey.”

RELATED: Humboldt Broncos will advocate for seatbelt use on team buses

Canadian wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen was one the first people to visit Straschnitzki while he was in hospital in Calgary. Hansen told him there’s more to a person than their legs and encouraged him to keep pushing through.

“I almost kind of want to take the torch from Rick Hansen and do something that inspires people to never give up and go through that other door — not the one that closed on you,” said Straschnitzki.

“Obviously it’s a long-term goal and it’s going to take almost the rest of my life but I’m willing to do it.”

Straschnitzki has been approached about public speaking and to be part of a new reality show similar to “Pimp My Ride” where a vehicle can be modified for his specific needs.

It’s part of a new normal for Straschnitzki.

“It’s a whirlwind. I know I’m not used to that kind of stuff but I’m starting to get used to things and learning how to handle myself.”

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Parksville artist aims to produce zero waste with creations, business

Margie Preninger even dabbled with dryer lint years ago

RDN dealing with high interest in backyard cannabis production

New policy proposed to address challenges with Health Canada licences

Generals peaking in time for playoffs

Oceanside earns one-sided win against Glacier Kings

Jeep bursts into flames on highway near Nanoose Bay

Emergency crews responded to blaze at approximately 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday

Students give two thumbs up to no more B.C. student loan interest

Eliminating the loan interest charges could save the average graduate $2,300 over 10 years

Ontario man accused of killing 11-year-old daughter dies in hospital, police say

Roopesh Rajkumar had been hospitalized with what police described as a self-inflicted gunshot wound

Manitoba ‘pauses’ link with ex-B.C. premier Gordon Campbell after allegations

Campbell had been hired to review two major hydro projects

City of Port Alberni cancels tourist train operations for 2019

Steam train to McLean Mill is out of commission for repairs; city wants to re-examine rail costs

Heritage minute features Japanese-Canadian baseball team, internment

The Vancouver Asahi baseball team won various championships across the Pacific Northwest

UPDATE: Woman, off-duty cop in critical condition after stabbing outside B.C. elementary school

The officer was interceding in an alleged assault when he and the woman were stabbed

$10-a-day child care not in 2019 budget, but advocate not irked

Sharon Gregson with the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. says NDP on track to deliver promise

B.C. Seniors Advocate questions labour shortage in care homes

Are there really no workers, or are care aide wages too low?

B.C. business groups worry about looming economic decline in wake of NDP budget

The party’s second government budget focused on plenty of spending, business advocates say

Most Read