It seems the entire nation wants to see Ryan Straschnitzki succeed.
The 20-year-old sledge hockey player was nominated for the top 16, then shortlisted in the top four for the inaugural Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame People’s Choice Award, which went to golf champion Brooke Henderson on October 23, 2019.
His buddy Michael Benn travelled with him to Toronto for the honour.
“I surround myself with friends and family who want to see me succeed,” said Straschnitzki, who’s well-known as ‘Straz.’
Benn was also there in the dressing room during this interview at Genesis Place in their hometown of Airdrie.
“I’ve seen tons of support and I’m really thankful for it,” said Straschnitzki. “So I think if that support keeps happening, my goal can be accomplished.”
Straschnitzki has been clear about that goal, which is to represent Team Canada at the Paralympics in sledge hockey. He set this goal shortly after becoming a parapalegic in April 2018, when the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team bus was involved in a crash with a semi-truck, killing 16 people, and injuring 13 others.
He has his sights set on the 2026 Paralympic Games.
“It’s a marathon,” said Straz. “I’m going to work hard and see where it takes me.”
He got on a sled for his first time in July 2018 and has improved immensely since then. The on- and off-ice training four to five days a week is paying dividends, but he’s also acutely aware of his need for rest and the danger of overusing his upper body between regular life, sledge hockey and working out.
“I’m on the ice with some of the National Team guys and always asking questions on what it takes,” said Straschnitzki, who has climbed the first rung on the ladder, joining Team Alberta this fall.
His current targets include playing in the provincial program for a couple of years to develop his skills, then trying out for selection with the National Development Team, and finally, moving onto the Men’s Olympic Team.
Playing sledge hockey has been a part of his healing process, “just being happy out there and not worrying about anything outside of the rink and hockey.”
He’s living through the many challenges, not the least of which is gaining more independence as a young adult who finds himself in a wheelchair. On the ice, he’s not worried about the hell he’s been through, and he recognizes everyone else has their stories, too.
“The power of sport is insane,” said Straz. “It’s a way to get rid of things and have fun.”
After photos, the ice was free for another 25 minutes. Straschnitzki and Benn ate it up, one-timing and skating end-to-end.
“I want to get better every chance I get, so whenever there’s ice, I want to get out there, have fun,” said Straz, with youthful enthusiasm.
He is growing in his independence, enjoying his own living space in his family’s renovated home they were able to move back into in April 2019.
“I remember having to be lifted into my chair just because I couldn’t move or anything, and now I’m able to transfer from floor to couch to wherever,” said Straschnitzki.
He’s recently signed a sponsorship agreement with Adidas Hockey to set him up with training gear and “the tools that I need.”
“They’ve been tremendous,” said Straz. “I’m really fortunate that they picked me…I’m really, really excited to see where this goes the next couple years.”
Photos by Britton Ledingham