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Paralyzed ex-hockey player: 'I don't think about what if ...'

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn.--In February, former Totino-Grace High School varsity hockey captain Matt Olson was playing with the Chicago Cougars of the U.S. Premier Hockey League when he slid into the boards and suffered a severe spinal cord injury. A q...

Matt Olson, a former Totino-Grace hockey captain who graduated in 2014, broke his neck and was paralyzed when he hit the boards during a game with the Chicago Cougars junior team on Feb. 21, 2016. Photo courtesy of Sue Olson.
Matt Olson, a former Totino-Grace hockey captain who graduated in 2014, broke his neck and was paralyzed when he hit the boards during a game with the Chicago Cougars junior team on Feb. 21, 2016. Photo courtesy of Sue Olson.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn.-In February, former Totino-Grace High School varsity hockey captain Matt Olson was playing with the Chicago Cougars of the U.S. Premier Hockey League when he slid into the boards and suffered a severe spinal cord injury. A quadriplegic since that game, Olson, 20, is rehabilitating at the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Golden Valley

Here's what Olson had to say about the experience:.

A guy was on a breakaway and I chased him down. I was going full speed. He shot the puck and the play was basically over. He went around the net on the left side and I was going to do the same thing, and I was going full speed. I lost my balance and fell headfirst into the boards.

There could have been a rut in the ice. It was a little soft at the time.

I was fully conscious. I remember everything.

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I just knew right away. After you hit and are laying there, the first thing you try to do is move. Everything was tingly. I lost my breath. I knew right away that something was not good here.

I couldn't move. It was really scary.

I got to the hospital and they did some assessments and X-rays right away. They could see I broke my C-4. My spinal cord was severely compressed.

They say I'm a quadriplegic with the damage to the spinal cord. My C-4 was completely broken and pinching my spinal cord.

I have some movement in my arms. I have really good biceps (movement) on my right side. I have really good external rotation with my arm on the right side. The left arm isn't as up to speed as my right one, but it's starting to get more biceps (movement) week to week and more external rotation. I have really good shoulder movements.

I have talked to Jack Jablonski. I see him here (at Courage Kenny). He's outpatient. I've said hi to him a few times. You see how much progress and gains he's made, and it's exciting. It makes you think, "If he can do it, I can do it, too."

It really helps to see all the people with similar injuries and the gains they've made. It's pretty encouraging to see what science is doing to help people (with spinal cord injuries). Before this, I never had any serious injuries. Just bumps and bruises.

I was playing in Chicago because my goal was to play college hockey. I wanted to get a scholarship somewhere or get someone interested in having me play hockey for them.

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We were having a good season in Chicago, especially for being a first-year team.

My senior year we went to the state tournament. I was captain (at Totino-Grace in 2014). That was a lot of fun to finally get to the tournament after losing to St. Thomas Academy in the section finals the previous three years. We were the consolation champions. It was pretty nice to have a winning record at the state tournament. Not too many teams can end their season on a winning note.

I want to do something with hockey and stay involved in some way. I definitely want to stay around the sport. I want to do something with environmental science. I'm not sure exactly what. There are a lot of opportunities in that field of work. That's still what I want to go to school for.

I'm really focused on my rehab every day and concentrating on trying to get stuff back. I'm not too worried about the far future. I'm just focused on these therapies I get every single day. The most encouraging thing is being able to drive my own wheelchair and getting some function back in my upper arms.

I don't wear a neck brace anymore. I started weaning off it when I was at the Mayo Clinic (prior to transferring to Courage Kenny last month). My muscles have gotten strong enough to support my head. That's big, not having to wear it all the time. I spend from two to four hours a day on therapy.

I've been off the grid a little bit. I'm starting to use my phone.

I haven't played "Pokemon Go" yet.

Having that background of being an athlete and having that mind-set of doing hard work to get results, it really helps with therapy. All my therapists can see that. It helps to have a strong mind. Your mind gets a workout just as much as your arms and legs when you focus on what they ask you to do. You might not be able to do it right away, but just by thinking about it helps connect the mind to the muscles.

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It's touching to see people that you inspire. When I was in Chicago, a young hockey player had to give a speech and report on someone who inspires him. He chose me to do it on. It's crazy how people around me get inspired by who I am.

It was such a freak accident. I don't really think, "If this would have happened or that would have happened ..." I don't think about, "What if I did something different?" It's something that happened and now it's about how I respond to it. Nobody hit me. It was just a freak accident. It just happened.

Related Topics: HOCKEY
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