It started as a regular night of hockey for the Portage Terriers and Winnipeg Blues just over seven years ago on November 12th, 2015. But it certainly didn't end that way. Following a routine collision with another player, Terrier player Braden Pettinger crashed into the boards. The end result was a C5 (neck) spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down.
Although we all know serious injuries can happen when we play sports, nobody ever expects they will. And when it does happen, everyone reacts in a different way. For Pettinger, the immediate goal was to be as positive as he could be and do everything possible to have the best recovery that was physically and medically possible. Although it certainly hasn't been easy, the young man from Elgin, Manitoba continues to do just that.
"I'm doing better than I have been since my injury, to be honest with you. I'm feeling a lot more like myself. More so than I have in a long time. It took a long time to get some confidence back and get to a place where I was comfortable with myself in day-to-day life.
Because of the seriousness of the injury, recovery will be a lifelong affair. Something that may seem routine and simple to most of us could be a major accomplishment for Pettinger. He says he will always look for ways to improve his situation.
"I guess the future depends on who you ask, but therapy, that's gonna be something I'm doing for the rest of my life. There is therapy on the maintenance side plus I need to make sure I can fend off all the secondary complications that may come along with being in a wheelchair. Pressure sores, bone, and joint issues, and stuff like that. That's my goal for therapy. But the other goal is to continue to make small improvements - which I continue to do on a regular basis. They may be small, but that's kind of where we're at now. I'm trying to keep my body as healthy as I can and wait for science to keep chugging. Hopefully, there are some new treatments in the pipeline in the future. Looking back at the place I was after my injury some people, including doctors, are shocked to see where I am now"
Pettinger loved playing hockey and sports were a big part of his world. Even though the injury was a result of that love, he still has a passion for sports in general.
"I have a love for sports. I always will. I'm not as active in sports as I used to be, but I still get out and play wheelchair rugby. That's something I enjoy. I still watch a lot of hockey and all kinds of sports"
As far as accessibility issues are concerned, Pettinger notes there are challenges but adds we are lucky to live where we do.
"We're doing pretty good here in Canada compared to a lot of parts of the world, I think we've got it pretty good. We should always continue to work on that front but I believe we're doing good. I try not to focus on that stuff too much though to be honest with you. Everybody out there has struggles and problems and issues on a daily basis"
The story of the injury was front and center following the injury and there was an outpouring of support from all across the country. But now that years have passed, the attention has also faded as well. Pettinger says he is Ok with that as he doesn't really care to be the center of attention. And now, he can try to live his life the best he can and focus on the future.
"I'm working on my psychology degree at the University of Regina. Hopefully, I'll be done in a couple of years, I'm a little over halfway done. I still spend quite a bit of time working out three times a week at first Steps Wellness Center here in Regina. I work out four times a week on the FES bike at home as well. Most of my day-to-day stuff right now is at school and gym"
Pettinger appreciates all the support he has received from the Portage area and even though his time as a Terrier was short he says he often hears from his family in town that people ask about him on a semi-regular basis.