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Airdrie's Ryan Straschnitzki inspires hundreds during talk at Innisfail campus

More than four and a half years after the horrific bus crash, Straschnitzki is living the goals he set for himself.

For more than four and half years, Airdrie's Ryan Straschnitzki’s life has been a supreme battle over adversity.

But from the very start of that journey, he has steadfastly refused to give up. His life today is one that is filled with success, despite every seemingly impossible challenge.

The 23-year-old former junior A hockey player was invited by Innisfail Middle School to speak on Dec. 1 to hundreds of students from grades 1 to 12.

“I want to encourage each and every one of you to remember that when life gets tough, and you have a slammed door in your face, to remember that through the growth mindset and always working hard, persevering and learning from your adversity and mistakes, not only will you overcome and succeed, you will truly be able to see that when one door closes another one opens,” Straschnitzki told students at the end of his first 40-minute presentation.

The applause was loud and sustained as he finished another presentation on the first-year anniversary of doing them.

He said afterwards there have been almost 20 over the past year, many to school children and some at corporate and NHL team events.

Many of the students had heard about his story of triumph over adversity that began in the late afternoon of April 6, 2018. But there were many others who had not.

Straschnitzki, then 18, was a surviving player on the Humboldt Broncos coach bus that was struck by a westbound semi-trailer truck near Armley, Sask.

Sixteen hockey players and officials were killed, while 13, including Straschnitzki, were injured.

“In those moments as an eighteen-year-old kid, on my back against the semi-truck, I can’t move, I can’t speak, and I am looking up at the sky and all these thoughts are racing through my head, ‘are these going to be my last moments? I have no idea,” Straschnitzki told students of his immediate thoughts after the crash.

“And I’m in and out of consciousness and waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen.”

He told his audience he was airlifted to hospital. For several days he received treatment for his serious injuries, but devastating news came with it.

“Doctors would come in and say, ‘Hey Ryan, you have less than a two per cent chance of walking. The best you're going to do is basically be bedridden your whole life,” recounted Straschnitzki, who was left paralyzed from the chest down, and is still in a wheelchair today. “I’m very stubborn when it comes to that kind of stuff. Someone tells me I can't, I want to prove them wrong.

“I had to set a goal for myself,” he added. “I wanted to try walking because I wanted to prove to all these people, they’re wrong or prove to myself that no matter what the situation I’m more than capable of reaching my goals.”

And yes, heard the young audience, Ryan Straschnitzki did prove all doubters wrong.

Before the crash he was an elite hockey prospect, working his way up to fulfill a dream of playing professional hockey.

The crash seemingly destroyed that dream, but his life today is one of many triumphant stories one day at a time facing every obstacle before him and winning, even if it takes a dozen attempts.

He is a winner because he embraces the power of motivation.

“For example, your motivation might be to impress your family with good grades, or a high paying job. My motivation was for the loss of my teammates, for everyone doubting me wrong,” said Straschnitzki. “To prove that no matter the situation you're in, you're more than capable of achieving your goals.”

More than four and a half years after that horrific bus crash, he is living the goals he set for himself.

He started the Straz Strong Foundation, a charitable organization to give others with physical and mental disabilities a better quality of life through sports or rehabilitation funding.

Straschnitzki has turned to sledge hockey to satisfy his passion for sport and competition. He is on the Team Canada development team with a goal of making the national team in time for the 2026 Winter Paralympics in Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.

And he’s still working passionately to fully walk again, with the same determination he had back in the hospital bed after the crash.

Straschnitzki has worked tirelessly with medical professionals, and in 2019 had cutting edge surgery performed in Thailand that involved inserting an epidural stimulator in his spine.

But the progress to fully walk again has been slow.

“Not without assistance. It's quite tough for me because my injury is so severe. It's a work in progress. So, if I do at some point it'll take lots and lots of time and effort,” said Straschnitzki, noting his ongoing recovery is also helped in a big way by sharing his story, especially to the young. “I was in their position at one point thinking I was invincible and realizing now that obviously we're not, we're all human.

“If they can get that message sooner or later then they’ll understand how to get through adversity.”

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