Jablonski scores new victories after disabling hockey injuryJust more than a year after being paralyzed from a hockey injury, Jack Jablonski will be on hand to watch his Benilde-St. Margaret’s teammates for today’s 1:30 p.m. Hockey Day Minnesota outdoor clash with Grand Rapids on Lake Pokegama.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
Jack Jablonski’s goals are of a different nature these days, but Leslie Jablonski still celebrates them with a mother’s passion.
Instead of watching her son score goals in a hockey game, she watches him progress through strenuous rehabilitation exercises.
On Thursday, for example, she was amazed to see Jack stand with the help of only two rehab specialists instead of the usual four or five.
“He was using his core to keep himself upright, and then he was reaching out to their hands to high-five it,” Leslie said about her son, who was paralyzed from the chest down when checked into the boards during a Benilde-St. Margaret’s junior varsity boys hockey game in December 2011.
Though the initial diagnosis was permanent paralysis below the spinal-cord injury, his mother says Jack is able to perform some functions such as move his knees from side to side when propped up and pull and push a ball with his feet.
“I am amazed by everything, no matter how big or little, because he wasn’t supposed to be able to do any of this,” she said. “He’s determined to walk and skate again, and he’s never going to give up.”
The 17-year-old junior is back in attendance at the St. Louis Park, Minn.-based private school and travels with the hockey team as a student assistant coach. He will be with his Red Knights teammates for today’s 1:30 p.m. Hockey Day Minnesota outdoor clash with Grand Rapids on Lake Pokegama.
After watching the Red Knights win the Minnesota Class AA state title in a fairy-tale finish to the 2011-12 season, Jack now travels with the team on a wheelchair-accessible bus.
“We’re past the point of the emotional lift of getting him back, but having him with us is a sense of rightness and a sense of belonging,” coach Ken Pauly said. “The guys are very pleased that he’s able to join us and not be separated.”
Staying positive through rehab
Jack’s day usually begins at 5:30 a.m., when workers arrive to get him ready for school, then afterward he spends several hours rehabbing four days a week at the Courage Center in Golden Valley before returning home to do homework or attending a hockey game. His exhausting day left him unavailable for comment for this story.
“He keeps up a great spirit and is always smiling,” his mom says.
That smile has been a constant when being visited by National Hockey League players and other well-known athletes or teammates and friends from school.
“That’s who he was before the accident and it’s who he is now,” Pauly said of Jablonski’s engaging personality.
He’s also active in social media — with more than 50,000 Twitter followers and a Facebook account so full he can’t add any more friends. He counts many professional athletes among his followers.
“It warms our hearts to know that the world cares and is interested in knowing what he’s doing,” his mother said. “It gives us support like you can’t imagine. People were there from day one and it’s just accelerated. It’s to a level that I can’t even comprehend.
“He keeps saying, ‘I’m just Jack.’ I think he’s overwhelmed in a good way and in awe of what’s happened, and it keeps him going.”
Yet physical progress remains slow. Despite all the advancements in therapy for paralyzed patients, improvements are measured in very small increments. In many ways, a positive mental attitude is as important as physical gains.
“He’s staying motivated and staying positive and taking in the good things to come his way,” Pauly said. “At the same time, the therapy is very much a grind. He understands that if he’s going to make those breakthroughs, he has to keep that positive attitude and keep working hard. I know that’s the approach he’s taking.”
Jack has maintained a sense of humor, too. When a teammate complained about a sore knee, Pauly says Jack responded, “I wish I could feel my sore knee.”
Whether he ever will feel his lower extremities is uncertain. Leslie Jablonski says doctors are unable to predict her son’s future, though she is encouraged.
“The initial diagnosis was that he couldn’t move from the injury on down,” she said. “To see the things he’s doing now is fascinating, and the doctors are equally amazed. I can’t imagine that he won’t walk someday.”
Injury forces rule changes
Jablonski’s injury initiated stricter enforcement of checking-from-behind and boarding penalties in Minnesota. Players face five-minute major penalties and possible game disqualifications, aspects that can alter how the game is played.
“The game has slowed down in tight areas,” Grand Rapids coach Bruce LaRoque said. “I get a feel that it’s more under control.”
Still, the penalties are open to interpretation. Officials, especially the less-experienced ones calling JV games, may interpret the rules differently.
“I’ve seen players play differently and officials are much more in tune to calling it, but I’ve also seen some confusion among various officiating groups,” Pauly said. “I see players let up behind the net, but it’s something we need to continue to be vigilant about.”
Grand Rapids senior defenseman Jake Bischoff says players are more conscious on the ice to not check opponents from behind. Bischoff, who suffered multiple concussions and sat out the first month of the season, also says Jablonski’s injury caused him to change his approach to the sport.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about him because of my concussions,” Bischoff said. “There’s people out there telling me, ‘You’ve had a lot of (concussions) so you should think about just playing baseball.’ I’ve thought about that a lot recently, about how I should start enjoying every game and every shift to the fullest because you never know when that day will come.”