Paralyzed hockey player Jack Jablonski thinks he’ll walk again

There really is no way to explain it.

A decade after an illegal body check from behind at a high school hockey game in Minnesota sent Jack Jablonski headfirst into the boards, severing his spinal cord and leaving him paralyzed, Jablonski still has the feeling of wearing his skates.

He knows he doesn’t really wear them. He knows he’s sitting in a motorized wheelchair most of the time, using a little finger to type and produce content for the Kings website – which he basically runs – or to operate the devices he uses. to conduct incisive interviews for reports and for a new web series entitled “Exchange jabs. ”

Jack Jablonski (13) participates in a hockey game before being paralyzed.

(Courtesy of Jack Jablonski)

But playing hockey was so much a part of who he was that his mind told him his skates were laced to his feet and ready to go, allowing him to keep a small chunk of his old life as he pushes the boundaries of. the new life that began when he fell on the ice in a terrible heap on December 30, 2011.

“He’s so weird. It’s the last feeling my feet had. Every time I really think about it, it’s always like that. They’re just locked in those boots and still have the blades,” a- he declared.

“But whether you can see your toes or not, it’s just the feeling I last remembered and it’s still with me to this day.” I hope I can feel it again in my true form.

Jablonski, 26, approaches the 10th anniversary of his accident with deep gratitude for those who have helped him get this far and the endless hope that he will regain enough function in his limbs to reduce his now total dependence to a caregiver. He doesn’t know when that will happen or what forms the gains will take, but it is certain that ongoing research will open new avenues for him and others living with devastating spinal cord injuries.

“I really think I’m going to walk,” he said, “and I hope to skate someday.”

Jablonski was planning to spend the anniversary of his accident with his family in his hometown of Minneapolis. They’ll be watching hockey on TV, of course, and he wants the day to be a party rather than a pity party. He dismisses the pessimism that sometimes creeps into his thinking, as happened when the COVID-19 shutdown became a torment of isolation and uncertainty. His accident had kept him from playing hockey, and then the pandemic swept away televised hockey and most other sports, leaving him with no game to write or watch. He does best when he’s busy and he doesn’t have much to keep him busy.

Jack Jablonski works to raise funds for paralysis research.

Jack Jablonski works to raise funds for paralysis research.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“I don’t think people realize the gravity of living with paralysis unless they have it, live with someone who has it, or are close to someone who has it. suffers. “

Jack Jablonski

“When you’re alone your mind wanders and tends to go somewhere pretty dark because of the past and the assumptions and the reality of my situation,” said Jablonski, who attended USC on a Swim scholarship. with Mike “for athletes with disabilities and started working for the Kings as an intern before graduating in 2019.

“I unfortunately went down the rabbit hole a few times here and there, but luckily I was able not to fall into too deep a rut. ”

With a return to sport and greater professional responsibilities which he hopes will prepare him for a career in hockey operations and paralysis research offering promising earnings, he looks to the future with confidence.

“We are making medical progress,” he said, “and whether it’s two years, five years, 10 years, 15 years later, I’m here for the long haul. I believe the way things are in terms of research and how fast they are developing just over the 10 years that I am in this world, I think most importantly, people’s lives will improve dramatically with it. paralysis in the years to come. But overall I believe we will have the cure for the paralysis or at most an opportunity for people like me to get back on my feet.

Jack Jablonski, left, and his brother Max sit together in an arena.

Jack Jablonski, left, and his brother Max sit together in an arena.

(Courtesy of Jack Jablonski)

He helps make that happen by raising funds for research. The Jack Jablonski BEL13VE in the Miracles Foundation – 13 was his uniform number at Benilde-St. Marguerite High School – is led by a board of directors of over 20 members and carefully chooses the organizations it will support from the proceeds of its three annual events.

He’s also participating in a clinical trial led by Dr. V. Reggie Edgerton, who heads a neuromuscular research lab at UCLA. Edgerton also launched SpineX, a company that uses electrical stimulation devices to stimulate the spinal cord and provide relief from a variety of conditions. “For a guy from USC, I’m ready to part ways with the rivalry and work together,” Jablonski joked.

He has not yet taken part in the test regularly, but his first assessment is encouraging: the stimulation of the muscles by electrodes placed on his skin gives him a feeling of more control in his hand. “I was able to pour water out of a glass, which I haven’t been able to do for 10 years,” he said.

“One of the things that keeps you optimistic is that everyone we’ve seen doing this study so far has had positive results in one way or another, so we know the study of trial works for those who take it, which is obviously a confidence booster for me to be a part of it, to get in. It has the potential to impact thousands, if not millions of people, if it does. can continue to prove that it works one way or another. The most important thing is to improve the quality of life for people with paralysis. I don’t think people realize the seriousness of living with paralysis unless they have it, live with someone who has it, or are close to someone who has it.

Jablonski goes to therapy three times a week. Twice a week he is strapped to a standing frame and walks on a treadmill. “To stay in shape when these medical trials and advancements come in, to stay ready for the future,” he said.

His spine was broken, but his mind is admirably whole. “If you had asked me 10 years ago, while I was lying in a hospital bed after my injury, where would I be in 10 years, I don’t think I could have imagined a better place for me, ”he said. “I don’t think I could have imagined a better result from where I am today.”

Catherine J. Martinez