Since I had older siblings, I started playing hockey from the moment that I could walk. I grew up in Wayzata, Minnesota and played all the way through high school with Wayzata. During my senior year of high school, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue playing, but luckily I decided I did, and went to college at Gustavus in order to pursue this. I can honestly say that that decision is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
My freshman year at Gustavus was amazing. I got to play in a lot of fun and challenging games and got really close to my teammates. Sophomore year rolled around and, as always, I was excited for the new season to start. The first month of the season went by pretty well as we were winning most of our games, and I had a nice start to the season with points. Over Thanksgiving break, we were going out east to Vermont, to play a tournament at Middlebury College. The first game we played, we lost by one goal, but we played right until the end. Then, in the second game, we were up by 2 going into the third period. 20 seconds in is when it happened.
Me and another girl were racing into the corner to get a loose puck, when she stuck her stick under me and caused me and her to go charging into the boards. With how we fell, my hands were under her, and I couldn’t move them to take the hit, causing my neck to get the impact. I immediately felt the most immense pain that I have ever felt in my life, and couldn’t help but squirm around on the ice. By some miracle, I wasn’t paralyzed right there on the spot, and my legs were actually moving around with me. The only thing that I thought was bad, was that my left arm was completely numb. When our athletic trainer got out on the ice, she evaluated me and thought that it might just be an injury in my shoulder alone, but wanted to take the worst case scenario and treat for that. After this decision, I was put in a neck brace, and spine boarded off the ice into an ambulance.
Once I got to the hospital, I got an X-ray and a CT scan, which confirmed that my C7 vertebrae was crushed and that I would need to have emergency surgery. Since the first hospital I went to was so small, I was transferred to a specialist hospital that was an hour away for surgery. Upon arrival at the second hospital, they started evaluating me immediately, with strength tests and general symptoms. Prior to surgery however, I had to get my spine straightened out. Sadly, this felt as painful as it sounds. They essentially hung an increasing amount of weight my head and took X-rays to see the progress of my spine. After about 50 pounds was added, my spine was straightened and I was ready for surgery.
I started surgery at about 10 at night, and it took about 4 hours total. According to my doctors, it could not have gone better. They took a bone graft from my hip, in order to aid the future healing of my spine. Although they were happy at the progress I had made, they told me that with how twisted and compressed my spine was, they were immensely surprised as to how I didn’t have any form of paralysis (the feeling and strength in my left side came back after surgery). They told me that with almost every time they perform this procedure, it either starts or ends in paralysis. Hours after I woke up from my surgery, I naturally had to use the restroom, and asked if I could get up to go. They said that we could try, but they didn’t have high hopes in the success of me walking. After the long and painful process of just getting out of bed, I got up and took about 3 steps, and then was in too much pain and had to be wheeled over. Obviously for me, I didn’t think that that was much of an accomplishment, however for my doctors, they said that they have never seen that. Later that day, my physical therapist came, and we took a walk around my room, about 20 steps or so, and all my doctors were just in shock as to how well I was doing, so close to such a severe injury and intrusive surgery. Even this close to my injury happening, I knew that I would do everything in my power to get on the ice again.
After 2 days in the hospital, I flew back to Minnesota and spent the next couple of weeks relaxing and trying to heal. It took 3 months, but in February to get my neck brace off. After getting it off, I had to work on motility stretches, to get the movement back in my neck. A few weeks after that I could drive, and then a few more weeks and I got get back into a more regular workout routine again. Prior to my injury, I can’t really say that I would be excited about going for a run, but when the ability to be able to move your legs is in jeopardy, you gain a new outlook on a lot of everyday things that you can easily take for granted.
Easing back into a normal workout routine was difficult to say the least. Although I could run, I couldn’t do long-distance because of how sore my neck would get. Then in May, I got cleared to skate non-contact for the summer, and was completely ecstatic. Throughout the summer, each day got easier to get back into the motions that used to be second-nature to me, prior to my injury. Although it was painful and frustrating at times, I was so happy to be back out there. Then, on October 4th, 10 months after my injury, I was cleared to play with contact, just in time for the season to be starting just a few weeks later. Earlier this week, I had my one-year anniversary with my injury, and happened to have a game on this day. Although I was incredibly nervous for this game, remembering what happened just a short 12 months ago, I conquered my fears and stepped on the ice and played the game I love so much. I even scored a goal, which was probably the best feeling I could’ve ever felt on this day and we ended up winning the game.
The Mental Side
Although I endured a severe injury, I never focused on the negative side. Yeah it was a season-ending injury, and could very easily have turned into a career-ending injury, but I could never be upset about it. I never felt bad for myself, and although at times it was hard, I always tried to have a positive outlook on things because the alternatives could’ve been so much worse. Each and everyday I am grateful for the ability to just be able to walk around on my own, yet alone have the ability to play hockey. Now that I’m back on the ice, I don’t take anything for granted and I have learned to love the game even more than I did before. Some people have called me crazy for risking my health to play a game, but to me, life without hockey isn’t a possibility and I knew that I wanted to play no matter what.