Paralyzying crash pushes P.E.I. coach to chase dreams

A P.E.I. woman who dreamed of becoming a hockey coach and whose dreams were almost shattered by a tragic car accident says she's looking forward to following her passion again.
Kristen Cameron, paralyzed by a drunk driver, is beginning to dream of coaching hockey again. 6:07

A P.E.I. woman who dreamed of becoming a hockey coach and whose dreams were almost shattered by a tragic car accident says she's looking forward to following her passion again.

Kristen Cameron, originally from Charlottetown, was pursuing a career as a coach in Erie, Pennsylvania when she was hit by a drunk driver while on her bicycle in September 2010.

She was thrown 15 metres off her bike which broke her neck and back.

Cameron was paralyzed from the chest down. She said she's glad she doesn't remember anything from the crash until the moment she woke up in the hospital.

Her mother remembers the call though.

"I remember I was in bed, it was a Sunday night, I was sleeping for a couple hours probably by the time the phone rang," said Joanne Cameron.

"I just couldn't believe it, it was just a sick feeling in my stomach," Cameron said. "I just couldn't get there fast enough."

Kristen Cameron said, looking back, the timing was difficult. "I was just figuring out exactly what I should be doing, what I was good at, and then I had my accident," Cameron said quietly.

"That was kind of tough at the time, but now I know what I should be doing, I just need a little work figuring out how I'm going to do it.

Eventually the driver, Allan Peters, was found guilty of aggravated assault and sentenced to three to six years in prison.

Inspiring Islanders

As she recovers with physiotherapy and exercise several days a week in Toronto, her positive attitude inspires not only her family, but countless people back home on P.E.I.

Kristen Cameron goes through rehabilatation four times per week in Toronto. (CBC)

"I really like physio, I like having a goal to work towards and love working out and trying to be physically active," Cameron said. "Trying to gain as much function back as I can, it's like a game to me."

Hockey is in Cameron's blood and it's the same mental focus she's had for hockey that is getting her through the hard times.

As a teen, she was fast and she could score and was recruited by Bowden College in Maine.

She became the assistant coach at age 25 at Mercyhurst, a small college in Pennsylvania.

Her uncle, Dave Cameron, even played in the NHL and is now assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators.

When she's not working hard at her recovery, the rest of the time she lives in an apartment in Toronto with her service dog Fido.

Heart in hockey

When talking about her recovery, Kristen draws parallels to playing hockey.

"The biggest thing is my mental toughness in my recovery, and that's one of the biggest things in hockey too, mental toughness is a huge part of the game," Cameron said.

"Being mentally tough is exactly what is helping me in my recovery. You've got to be able to pick yourself up when you're down."

Kristen said she loves hockey as much as ever. She gets to Toronto Leaf games as often as she can and she's thinking about coaching again.

"It represents my family back home and what hockey means to everyone," she said.

Recently a Toronto area university approached Kristen about coaching their women's hockey team.

She said she's excited at the prospect, but isn't sure she's ready quite yet.

"How Kristen has handled her recovery, it's just awe-inspiring," said Dave Cameron. "From the time of the accident, she's been positive and determined and stubborn, and you know with that type of attitude whatever level of her recovery is going to be she's going to achieve it."

Cameron's mother said she's inspired by her daughter every day.

"I knew she was strong, but I never thought anybody could ever be this strong," Joanne Cameron said. "She amazes me."

Kristen Cameron said she's motivated by people's support.

"Especially when I'm down, when I have bad days, and I think about people that are inspired by me, especially people that don't know me, to me that is more motivating than anything," she said.

"Just to know that I inspire people. That makes me get through my tough days for sure. That's the biggest thing I think about when I have a tough day."