A 15-year-old New Brunswicker who beat the odds against a devastating hockey injury this year was given the honour of lighting up a 5.5-metre Christmas tree Tuesday night, at a ceremony outside the provincial rehabilitation centre in Fredericton.
Alex Hayward was hit hard during a game last May in Quebec.
"They flipped me over and I saw that my arms and legs were kind of just rag dolling around and that I didn't feel a thing of any of the hands and stuff," he recalled.
"I kind of started realizing, you know, this is probably very serious."
Doctors were unsure he would recover and thought if he did, the process would take years.
But Hayward says the staff at the Stan Cassidy Centre pushed him to move his arms and legs.
"The centre here, you know, getting me up at 8 o'clock in the morning to do physio until I just can't anymore," he said.
Paralympic champion Dave Durepos was also on hand for the tree lighting ceremony.
He said that kind of support is key to rebuilding a life after an accident.
"There's a lot of times that you want to give up and they just know what kind of buttons to push in order for you not to," he said.
Hayward's parents say their son was very determined to walk again. And with the help of the centre, he's now beginning to go back to sports, including ice skating and skiing.