82: Just a Kid

82: Just a Kid

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Just a Kid

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

~Christopher Reeve

“Van, I can’t move. Please get me off the ice.”

“I wish I could Travis, but we need to stay here until the ambulance arrives.”

And then we waited. “Of all nights for a snowstorm, why tonight?” I thought to myself as we waited what seemed like an eternity for the ambulance.

Hockey connects many different groups of people — players, referees, coaches, and even the off-ice officials. Sometimes there are events that draw together all of these participants as well as others from outside of the arena.

This story, although tragic, is a story of inspiration. In the 2000-2001 season I was coaching the Assumption Crusaders senior boys hockey team, a high school team from Burlington, Ontario. We were an average team that had shared some above average experiences. The previous spring we travelled to the Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria to play a series of games against European teams. This trip also enabled the boys to experience other cultures and take in the incredible sites of the Austrian Alps and surrounding regions. In the fall of 2000 we travelled by bus cross-country to play in a tournament in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The boys were a close team, a group of players bound together by hours spent in dressing rooms, working hard at practice, and competing in games, not to mention hours hanging out together outside of the arena.

In December of 2000 we were playing another local high school team. They were the dominant team in our league, and we knew we had our hands full just trying to keep the score close. Through two periods of play the score was 4-0. During the intermission our conversation was light as our coaching staff reminded the team that they were playing well and were only a “field goal” away from tying it.

At the start of the third period, our captain, Travis Colley-Zorrilla, broke in from the side boards at the blue line and went in on a partial breakaway. He made a wonderful move pulling the puck from his backhand to his forehand before shooting the puck past the outstretched glove of the goalie and into the back of the net.

What happened next took only seconds but its impact would last forever. Travis caught his foot on the goalie and that, coupled with the weight of an opposing player who landed on him after the goal, changed the direction of his fall from a gentle slide into the corner to an abrupt crash into the end boards. Not able to get his arms up to protect himself, the impact was absorbed by his head and led to a variety of horrific injuries including three broken vertebrae in his neck; specifically C4, C5, and C7. The most significant and sustaining injury was the crushed spinal cord that led to the paralysis of his arms and legs.

There are so many feelings and thoughts that went through me when I heard the doctor describe the extent of his injuries. Disbelief, shock, sadness, devastation, numbness, even anger. Travis, on the other hand, elected to be strong, resilient, optimistic, and uplifting to all who came to visit. While he remained in the ward recovering from his injuries and numerous surgeries, he never once questioned “why me?” or demonstrated any sign of self-pity. Early on he even commented, “I am glad that this happened to me and not anyone else, because I know I can handle this.”

Travis was just a kid but he simply took this enormous challenge in stride and talked of walking again, going to college or university, and accomplishing all of his dreams in spite of this setback. I watched other patients in the ward who also suffered spinal cord trauma try to cope with the staggering news. They all had such sad stories of one wrong turn, or one bad decision, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not all of them shared his strength of mind.

While Travis remained in the hospital, so many people in the school community pulled together to help. No one knew quite what to do, but we all tried to do something. Classmates, teachers, and parents all chipped in to prepare meals for his family, car pool for visits, and help out around the house to somehow make life easier for his family. In the meantime a committee was organized to fundraise. The reality of an injury like this is that modifications are required to all aspects of the home: kitchen counters need to be lowered, bathrooms need easier access, floor plans need to be altered, and all aspects of day-to-day living require greater accommodation. Transportation is another issue all together; a new van would be required to accommodate a wheelchair.

We decided a dinner-dance with a silent auction would provide the greatest return. Our committee reached out to everyone we could think of — local politicians, school community, local parish, celebrities, local businesses. We used our school as a depot for auctionable items. The outpouring of items was overwhelming. Sports memorabilia such as signed NHL jerseys and sticks came from teams across North America; Don Cherry provided all sorts of items but especially his genuine care and interest; PGA golfers like Fred Couples sent golf equipment and clothes to auction. We raised more than $100,000 through the generosity of our community — not just our local municipality but the hockey and sports community at large.

In addition to raising money, the local fire department stepped forward and offered to provide all the labour to customize Travis’s house. A local building supplier (Home Depot) matched our efforts by providing an equal value in required building materials to every dollar spent in the store. It was a labour of love as every day a team of people showed up with tools and went to work on Travis’s home. In total more than 100 workers would come over to the house, some immediately after their own twelve-hour shifts. The entire community was one big example of positive thinking and can-do attitudes.

It’s been more than ten years since the accident. In that time Travis has dedicated much of his time to giving back to the community. He speaks to children in the community, both as an individual and for the Shoot For A Cure campaign, never shy about describing, in detail, his injuries and how his life has changed since that fateful game. He served as an ambassador for other fundraising ventures such as Wheels in Motion. He, along with friends and former teammates Chris Warren and Colm Rea, served as coach of the Crusaders lacrosse team for three years — teaching, instructing, motivating, and passing on skills that he is more than capable of providing.

Travis and I have always had a very close relationship, but in these past ten years we have become genuine friends. We live only blocks apart and find time as often as we can to catch a Leafs game on TV, travel to Cornell University to watch the Big Red battle away in the Lynah Rink, wheel around Glen Abbey Golf course and watch Fred Couples and other PGA tour stars shoot incredible scores trying to win our Canadian Open.

There are times when people will ask me how Travis is doing; I can’t even get through a sentence without acknowledging that he’s the bravest person I know, that he’s my hero, and that he has demonstrated what it means to be a champion. A captain is expected to be a role model: mature, responsible, hard working, and dedicated to the goals of the team. Travis has maintained those qualities for life. Travis is truly an inspiration to all who know of his story and what he has overcome since that snowy December afternoon.

~Carl Van Landschoot

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