It is one thing to try to reduce the risk of brain injuries in contact sports. Yet it's another to channel what Kitchener Rangers captain Ben Fanelli describes as "three unlucky seconds" into a purpose.
Four years ago next week, junior hockey players gathered in prayer on the ice after Fanelli suffered a fractured skull after an illegal check to the head behind the net during an Ontario Hockey League game. Of course, the Oakville, Ont., native got from that point to rejoining the Rangers after sitting out nearly two full calendar years and becoming their captain this season.
Fanelli, 20, gave a TED talk in Toronto earlier in October. it's inspirational to hear Fanelli describe how he distanced himself from the initial prognosis, where he was told "sports were off the table" and that his education would be interrupted for two years.
For success, you need goals ... the main thing is make sure you enjoy that goal. My first goal was walking around the block — that's not even 400 metres. My first goal when I got home from the hospital [after being in a coma] was walking around the block. And then the next goal was going for a jog ... when I walked around the block it was awesome, I had so much energy. I had so much energy when I finished my walk I could go for jog. And then I could go to the gym.
Success is whatever you want to be ... I think success is finding a way.
The other takeaway came near the end of the speech. I think most people tend to talk what medical professionals say at face value, which is wise for the most part. An important distinction, at least from Fanelli's vantage point, is that a doctor might only be treating a specific condition, not the whole being.
To brain injury survivors — survivors of any injury — I'd say push the envelope. Because if I remained on the path that the doctors gave me, then I wouldn't be here today. I'd be starting high school today. Instead, I have two semesters at Wllfrid Laurier [University]. So push the envelope. Because that's what going to get you to the next level.
The doctor is the doctor of whatever injury you have, but you're the doctor of your own limitations. So that doctor doesn't know how well I can jog around the block or go to the gym when he thinks I'm just walking. If you feel safe and comfortable, keep pushing it.
Fanelli completed a triathlon in June 2011 before returning to the OHL and has started a charity for brain injury awareness called HeadStrong.
The message ultimately is how he took control of how those "three unlucky seconds" were going define him on into adulthood. All that added up to an unforgettable night two seasons ago when Fanelli was introduced before his return game in the same rink where he suffered what was initially believed to be a career-ending injury.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to email@example.com.