'I'm going to get out of my chair': Injured Manitoba hockey player determined to walk again
Paralyzed hockey player hopes to walk again one day
After he was paralyzed during a Manitoba Junior Hockey League game two years ago, Braden Pettinger said he wanted nothing to do with the game he loved. But now, he hopes to one day help young players.
"It's been a roller coaster, I guess," said Pettinger in an interview with CBC News from Regina. "There's been some lows, there's been some highs."
Pettinger fractured his C5 vertebra in his neck in several places. Doctors initially told him he'd be confined to his wheelchair for the rest of his life, but he refuses to accept that fate.
"They might have a different opinion ... but I think I'm definitely going to be out of this chair one day," he said.
Pettinger attends First Steps Wellness Centre in Regina, where he does physical therapy five days per week.
But on weekends, he still comes back home to Elgin, Man., a small village about 230 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg. He's also started taking online courses through the University of Manitoba.
"It's a long road," he said, adding that even though his progress has been slow, he's starting to get stronger in his core, triceps and his legs but isn't nearly ready to give up his chair yet. "Its a really slow process."
Pettinger said he hopes to see considerable progress in the next six months.
More than $150K in donations
He said support and well-wishes his family have received over the last two years have kept him going.
"It's encouraging all the time," he said. "There's a lot of times when I get down and things are frustrating … but you look at all the people who believe in me and who have supported me and donated money so I'm able to do these things … so I'm able to do better and improve my function."
"It was really nice getting back there and seeing a lot of people I hadn't seen in a while … old billets, people at the rink, people in the community," said Pettinger. "A lot of guys I played with came out to the game."
"It was a good night, really thankful for what they did there with the donation they made … and the response from the fans there."
In the wake of his injury, Pettinger and his family were given more than $150,000 in donations, raised though fundraisers, socials and other avenues.
"I consider myself very lucky, really," he said. "It's unbelievable … from like all the things that I can do, the multiple hours per day [of therapy], the stem cell treatment. I consider myself really lucky. I'm thankful for that."
"If its wasn't for all the money that was raised by people and donated me, I'd be on a pretty tough situation right now," he said.
However Pettinger said he and his family have been disappointed with Hockey Canada since his accident, saying communication surrounding the organization's insurance policy has been lacking.
"They haven't been fair, they haven't been morally correct… I feel the need to say that just because people in the future who are in the same situation I am."
For its part, Hockey Canada called Pettinger's incident unfortunate and said they provide one of the best insurance policies in Canadian sport.
"A review of the incident determined that this was an unfortunate accident," a Hockey Canada spokesperson told CBC News.
"There's no point in thinking about things I could have done differently," he said. "It happened."
Asked what he's missed the most since his injury, Pettinger said his independence.
"Hockey is ways down the list of the things I miss."
He said his injury has also given him a new outlook on life.
Pettinger, who first started playing the game when he was three years old, said he wanted nothing to do with the game after his injury and didn't even want to it on TV afterwards. But he's starting to come around. An avid Winnipeg Jets fan, he now wants to get back into the game to help young players in some way.
"I want to get involved with hockey again," he said. "Maybe with a coaching role … made a development role."
"I see the game a lot different now … from systems to guys individually. When I played hockey, I didn't watch a lot of hockey outside the rink."
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