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

Regional unemployment rate drops

But fewer people are working overall

Horizon North construction to start soon

The first gear will start rolling into Kitimat at the beginning of 2019

Haisla yet to sign LNG benefits deals with the province

Other First Nations already receiving cash payments

Area First Nations benefit from LNG Canada project

Agreements with province provide cash, land

Work begins on a new Haisla health centre

It will include a telehealth room, a place for visiting physiotherapists and dentists

Story of the Year: Deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash

The Canadian Press annual survey of newsrooms across the country saw 53 out of 129 editors cast their votes for the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

‘Subdued’ housing market predicted in B.C. through 2021: report

The Central 1 Credit Union report predicts “rising but subdued sales” over the next three years, with little movement in median home prices.

A journey through 2018’s top pop culture moments

Was there any pop culture this year? Of course there was.

‘A stronger Alberta:’ Ottawa announces $1.6B for Canada’s oil and gas sector

Price of Alberta oil plummeted so low that Alberta’s Premier said Canada was practically giving it away

Wicked weather, including heavy snow, rainfall, hammers southern B.C.

Environment Canada has posted winter storm warnings for the Coquihalla Highway, Highway 3

Caretaker jailed, must pay back money after stealing $260K from elderly B.C. couple

Antonette Dizon, now 50, had been hired to provide extra care for Henry and Helen Abfalter

Retailers feel the squeeze of their generous return policies

Technology data tracking can clamp down on fraudulent abuse

Canadians to get low-cost data-only mobile phone plans within 90 days: CRTC

Bell, Rogers and Telus will provide plans as cheap as 250MB for $15

Man rescued from sinking boat off the coast of Vancouver Island

Mayday call came into Coast Guard saying vessel had taken on water, BC Ferries dispatched to scene

Most Read