‘Willing to do anything’: Humboldt Broncos crash survivor joins disability advocacy group

Airdrie’s Ryan Straschnitzki has been working to regain the use of his legs since the tragic 2018 crash, even getting an epidural stimulator implanted in his spine in 2019.

Vecova announced the appointment of Ryan Straschnitzki as its first-ever Ambassador, who will support Vecova in its mission to advocate for individuals with disabilities and foster a more inclusive community in Calgary. PHOTO BY DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

Bill Kaufmann, Calgary Herald July 27, 2023

Humboldt Broncos bus crash survivor Ryan Straschnitzki may still be focused on his own recovery, but he’s also expanding his efforts to helping others.

The 24-year-old, who was paralyzed from the chest down in the April 6, 2018, highway collision of the junior hockey team’s bus with a semi-truck near Armley, Sask., is now an ambassador for Vecova, a society that provides services and advocacy for the disabled.

“My entire schedule has changed,” said Straschnitzki, who’s become a prominent face of recovery following the collision that killed 16 and injured 13 others.

“In taking on the role of accessibility consultant and specialist, I can boost awareness of what Vecova has to offer.”

In regular visits to the main Vecova facility at 3304 33rd Street NW, near the University of Calgary campus, he’ll be advancing wheelchair sports while championing the facility’s amenities and services, which include a swimming pool, gymnasium and mental-health space.

“Being there is a wonderful opportunity — I might try swimming but for now I’ll be working on my wheelchair basketball game (at Vecova),” said Straschnitzki.

“I’m willing to do anything I can to promote Vecova and work toward a common goal.”

Straschnitzki remains a fixture at WinSport

His experience since the crash has illustrated the need to “get more adaptive athletes involved, to raise awareness for people to reach the goals they’re aiming for.”

Five years in a wheelchair, he said, has made him keenly aware of the needs and challenges of the disabled community and a perfect fit for the ambassador role.

Vecova CEO Kelly Holmes-Binns agrees, adding Straschnitzki is a role model.

“We are so thrilled to bring Ryan on as our first-ever ambassador,” said Holmes-Binns.

“His journey of resilience and advocacy is an inspiration to all of us at Vecova, and we believe that together we can create lasting change for individuals with disabilities.”

Straschnitzki with Yvonne Martodam (left), Chief Operating Officer and David Walsh (right), Chief Financial Officer. PHOTO BY DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

In the meantime, Straschnitzki continues to work toward regaining the use of his legs.

Along with physical therapy, he’s been a five-day-a-week fixture at Calgary’s WinSport playing sledge hockey, and he often golfs in the city.

He had an epidural stimulator implanted in his spine in Thailand in 2019. The device, which resembles a smartphone, sends electrical currents to the spinal cord to try to stimulate nerves and move limbs.

A planned upgrade — complete with mapping of the complex interaction between nerves and muscles — was delayed for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic but was provided in early 2022.

Since his Thailand surgery, he’s been able to stand on his own and take a few steps with a walker.

“I’m still working to connect the neuropathways to get more function for my legs,” he said.

“I’m taking care of my legs so they don’t atrophy… technology advances every day and we don’t give up.”

Manitoba crash last month revived grim memories

Earlier this year, he said he’s setting his sights on making Canada’s para hockey squad for the 2026 Paralympics.

Straschnitzki is no stranger to advocacy.

Last year, the Airdrie man restarted the Straz Strong Foundation that helps those facing a journey of rehabilitation.

He’s also spearheading a fundraising tournament Aug. 27 at Heritage Pointe Golf Club.

Though the incidents appear to have some differences, last month’s horrific, fiery collision between a bus carrying seniors and a semi-truck near Carberry, Man., killing 17 people, revived grim memories of his own ordeal, said Straschnitzki.

“We can relate,” he said of him and others affected by the Humboldt Broncos’ tragedy.

“The important thing is to make the changes that are needed.”

Contact Bill Kaufmann, email BKaufmann@postmedia.com and Twitter @BillKaufmannjrn

Source Calgary Herald

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