Note: This story was awarded the Canada-wide Edward R. Murrow award for television sports reporting – small market on April 22, 2014.
LETHBRIDGE – For 16 years Paul Pisko fought through crippling pain in his right leg.
“It was a huge toll,” said Pisko. “Constantly recovering, exhausted all the time, physically, mentally. In a way it was just depressing.”
When he was 23 the Lethbridge native had his leg crushed by a truck, leading to a seemingly never ending string of surgeries. He continued to train in and teach martial arts, as he fought through the constant pain. He hoped each successive surgery would end his agony, instead, it just kept getting worse.
“When you start breaking your femur from putting pants on in the morning, I mean, that’s where I was like ‘enough is enough, it’s not right, this should not be happening,” said Pisko.
His friends noticed his struggle. Long time coach and training partner Brad Wall could see the pain Pisko was going through, but was unable to help.
“I was like honestly like ‘poor guy, when does this ever stop?'” said Wall.
The answer came in July 2012 when Pisko made the life-altering decision to have his leg amputated just above the knee.
“It wasn’t really a major decision for me because I’d been dealing with it for so long and I’d seen what people can do without it,” said Pisko. “I haven’t looked back, it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made.”
He made his first appearance back in the gym just a week after the surgery and started the long rehab process. He needed to re-learn nearly all movements with his prosthetic leg, starting with walking. But with a tireless work ethic he progressed quickly and entered a triathlon just 11 months after the surgery.
“People were like ‘you’re crazy, you’re stupid, you’re going to hurt yourself’,” said Pisko. “That’s what motivated me more.”
He hadn’t swam or rode a bike in 17 years, and wasn’t equipped with the proper prosthetic for running, making the triathlon a gruelling test. But he finished the race, proving to himself what he was able to do.
“It was such an amazing feeling to be able to do that,” said Pisko. “I just felt on top of the world.”
With the triathlon conquered Pisko needed a new challenge. After not skating for close to two decades, he strapped on the blades and stepped back on the ice. Skating re-awakened long forgotten feelings.
“It was awesome. I felt like a little kid on Christmas day, just grinning ear to ear,” said Pisko.
But again, just conquering his challenge wasn’t enough. Pisko started training hard and was invited to try out for the Canadian standing amputee national hockey team. He went to his first camp with the club in March and intends to continue to pursue that opportunity down the road. Along with any other opportunities that may come his way, as after losing his leg, Pisko has re-invigorated his life.
“I feel reborn, I can do anything now,” said Pisko. “And, why not?”