Hundreds of people from Airdrie and the outlying communities crowded around the outdoor arena at Chinook Winds Park on Friday night to rally around a young, determined Humboldt Broncos hockey player as he recovers from a devastating injury.
Ryan Straschnitzki was one of 13 people injured in a deadly crash between the bus carrying his team and a semi-truck on last Friday night on a Saskatchewan highway. Sixteen others were killed.
Straschnitzki suffered a broken back in the crash and was paralyzed from the chest down. The 18-year-old’s parents said Monday that their son is “determined to get well.”
“When they told us, Ryan just looked at us and goes, ‘Dad, Olympic sledge hockey. I’ll get us the gold,’” his father Tom Straschnitzki said.
The vigil in Straschnitski’s hometown was planned in part by the young man who set up a fundraiser selling #StrazStrong hats to help the Straschnitzki family with the road ahead.
“We felt that it was important… as the community of Airdrie as well as… the hockey community here, that we get together,” Cody Thompson said Friday night. “A lot of us have kind of been walking around, dealing with obviously the tragedy that happened exactly one week ago today, and nobody’s really gotten together.”
Thompson said many people in Airdrie and the surrounding communities had ties to other Humboldt Broncos players and staff as well as Straschnitzki.
“We want to get together, show our respects, grieve together, hug each other, have a vigil and then feel good about saying our goodbyes,” he said.
“And then really focusing on getting behind Ryan and making sure he knows that not just the community of Airdrie, but Calgary and everybody else is behind him and we can focus on moving forward with him.”
Thompson, who runs White Collar Boxing Company, coached Straschnitzki at the Airdrie-based gym where the hockey player received the nickname “Straz.” That nickname was the inspiration for the slogan printed on the #StrazStrong hats Thompson is selling to raise money.
That hashtag has also been shared widely on Instagram, offering encouragement to Thompson, but more importantly to Straschnitzki.
“It’s been really incredible,” Thompson said. “It’s not surprising just knowing the way Airdrie is, the way Albertans are, and Canadians as a whole, but it’s been really heartwarming to see the amount of reach that we’ve had through social media and other outlets.”
“I know, talking to his parents, whenever Ryan has a painful couple of hours, when he’s going through his therapies, when he comes back and he gets on his phone and looks at social media he knows that he’s not done.
“And what he told me this morning is, ‘Sometimes you just gotta bite your lip and work your way through it,’ because he’s still got the ability to work his way through it and a lot of his teammates don’t have that chance.”
WATCH: Cody Thompson, friend of Humboldt Broncos player Ryan Straschnitzki, describes the young man’s strength and resilience as he recovers from last Friday’s deadly bus crash in Saskatchewan.
Along with a severe spinal cord injury, Straschnitzki suffered several broken bones and is dealing with other internal injuries, Thompson said. The road ahead will be long for the 18-year-old, but Thompson said he’s confident in his resilience.
“There is something very special about Straz,” Thompson said.
“He is one of the strongest individuals physically we’ve ever seen and I think now we’re starting to understand the strength of his resolve and who he is mentally and spiritually.”
The #StratzStrong ballcaps will also be available for ordering at Friday’s vigil.