Ryan Straschnitzki’s comeback story is getting a chapter devoted to golf.
Paralyzed from the waist down in the tragic accident that killed 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team three years ago, the Airdrie, Alta., native is set to work with ParaGolf Canada’s Todd Keirstead next week at Lynx Ridge Golf Club in Calgary.
An adidas sponsored ambassador in the sport of sledge hockey, Straschnitzki is no stranger to golf.
Introduced to the game by his grandfather when he was eight, he played regularly with family and friends before hockey took over as his sport of choice. Straschnitzki played Triple A for the Airdrie Xtreme at 15, went to the AC Avalanche at 16, and played two years with the Leduc Oil Kings before Humboldt in the Saskatoon Junior Hockey League for the 2017-18 season.
Dreams of professional hockey ended in a split second April 6, 2018.
A semi-trailer truck ran through a flashing stop sign at Highway 35 and 335 near Armley, Sask., crashing into the Broncos team bus. One of the 13 people who survived, Straschnitzki was able to regain mobility after going to Thailand for a surgical procedure that stimulated nerves, allowing him use of his lower limbs.
Last month he posted a 39-second social media post taking his first steps with a walker. To date, it’s been viewed 271,000 times on Twitter and has almost 9,000 likes.
Signing a multi-year contract with adidas Canada in 2019 has proven life changing.
Refusing to let his injury dictate the quality of his day-to-day, Straschnitzki is fulfilling his sledge hockey ambitions with hopes of one day representing Canada at the Olympics. With adidas Golf Canada’s help he’ll now see where his own sheer will and Keirstead can take his ambitions on the fairways as he transitions into being a multi-sport adidas athlete with the help of ParaGolf Canada.
“My story is one that a lot of people can relate to; having one door close and having your life take a different direction than you thought it would,” Straschnitzki says. “It’s about finding another path and not dwelling in the past.”
Keirstead will play an integral role.
ParaGolf’s founder and key principle will journey west next week, first to Edmonton’s Belvedere G&CC. There he will be on hand to demonstrate the power of golf to Canadian wounded military, amputees, Paralympians and neurological and co-ordination impairment individuals before travelling to Calgary where he will meet up with Straschnitzki and a similar group of all abilities folks.
Championing this cause for Keirstead has also proven life changing.
The former golf trick shot artist turned all abilities advocate, motivational speaker and coach has seen what’s possible when adaptive athletes focus on golf. It now consumes him every single day.
“I want to help Ryan and any and all individuals with disabilities to become actively engaged in the social structure of their community, and to derive the health benefits that golf provides to enhance their quality of life,” said Keirstead, who in founding ParaGolf Canada earlier this year has provided the country with its first dedicated organization focused exclusively on the promotion of full inclusion for the sport. “I’ve witnessed first hand how being on the golf course provides an individual to find happiness and normalcy in their lives after being affected by illness or disability. I love igniting the passion in individuals and to help transcend personal boundaries both on and off the fairway.”
Keirstead believes anyone can play golf. With ParaGolf Canada he’s forged pathways for all abilities to advance through a cycle of programming starting with grassroots to enhanced development, national playing, future level programs as well as junior development. Although golf has not been approved by the International Olympic Committee for inclusion in the Paralympics, a time will come when that will happen in the future.
When it does a foundation of pathways and proper classifications with coast-to-coast structuring will be beneficial for an athlete like Straschnitzki who Keirstead is eager to work with.
“I think right now Canada is at a tipping point,” Keirstead told me earlier this year in an interview. “Inclusion and diversity are hot-button topics.”
Support from adidas Golf Canada makes it possible.
Along with TaylorMade Canada and Canadian Tire, the high-profile sport and athletic brand is a huge proponent of adaptive golf in Canada. The team could not be more thrilled for Straschnitzki’s involvement as he and Keirstead get to work.
“With our longstanding support of adaptive golf through Todd Keirstead and his ParaGolf Canada program and Ryan being such a great adidas ambassador, we at adidas Golf Canada knew we had to connect Todd and Ryan together to pursue Ryan’s passion in the world of ParaGolf,” said Leslie Hawkins, adidas Golf Canada’s former general manager who last week was appointed vice-president retail Canada adidas. (Jeff Feltrin, former director of sales, takes over as general manager on the golf side.)
With the word “can’t” not part of his vocabulary, Sraschnitzki’s rehabilitation through golf has already begun. He’s tested his capabilities in anticipation of Keirstead’s visit next week and is eager to be challenged once more.
“Golf has given me an opportunity to explore new sports besides hockey and football as well as giving me the enjoyment of the game as well,” he said in a message. “Working with ParaGolf Canada means that not only will I be able to get back into the sport and hopefully compete but also to make new connections and friendships.”