Before a national television audience Sunday, five years after a check during a Twin Cities high school hockey game left him paralyzed, Jack Jablonski vowed that he will rise from his wheelchair and do more than just stand.
During a segment on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” the 21-year-old from Minneapolis said, “I’m not done walking or skating.”
On Dec. 30, 2011, during a junior varsity game while skating for Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School in St. Louis Park, Jablonski took a hit from behind that sent him crashing into the boards. The sophomore’s spine was severed.
Jablonski’s injury reverberated throughout the hockey community, and not only in Minnesota. NHL players across North America made gestures of support, stickers with his jersey number 13 were affixed to thousands of hockey helmets and youth rules were changed in an effort to make the game safer.
Now, Jablonski attends the University of Southern California. He’s an intern for the Los Angeles Kings, and he produces a hockey podcast.
The ESPN piece recounted Jablonski’s story and included interviews with his parents, Leslie and Mike, and Benilde’s varsity head coach, Ken Pauly.
Jablonski was shown in the segment doing grueling physical therapy. He spoke about the sensations he feels in his lower extremities, bringing him hope that he’ll skate again someday.
Even with five years having passed, Jablonski fought back tears when describing the moment that changed his life and those of so many others around him.
“As I had turned to look for one of my teammates,” he said, “the defenseman hit me on the shoulder. Simultaneously, somebody behind me that I had no clue was there put his elbow into my neck and into the boards.
“That is where life changed.”
He recalled “staring into the boards, unable to move … and I had no clue what was going on. My neck was in pain; couldn’t feel anything. [It’s] something I’ll never have a chance to redo … not turning and taking that elbow to the neck.”
Jablonski brought his folded right hand up to his face and wiped away a tear.