Humboldt survivor Straschnitzki just ‘happy to be alive’

The mayor of Humboldt speaks to the community and thanks the support that has been received.

Ryan Straschnitzki was sitting at the front of the bus, texting his girlfriend when the scream of bus driver Glen Doerksen braced him for a collision that has echoed around the world.

"All of a sudden the bus driver screamed ‘whoa’ and I looked up and the semi driver was crossing our path," said the Humboldt Broncos defenceman.

Then, as he remembers it, there was silence.

Upon impact, he blacked out.

When the 18-year-old Airdrie, Alta. native came to, he was looking up at the mangled remnants of the bus carrying 29 of the closest people in his life.

There were screams of panic, moans of pain and mass confusion as horrified locals who came upon the scene tried helping any way they could.

True to the tight-knit nature of the Broncos bunch he was so proud to play for, Straschnitzki’s immediate thoughts turned to helping out.

"I kept calling out guys’ names and asking if there was anything I could do," said Straschnitzki from his bed at Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital Tuesday.

"All I wanted to do was just help my teammates, but I just couldn’t move my legs.

"I had a couple teammates lying in front of me. I was in shock and didn’t know what to think.

"Nick Shumlanski had blood on his face and he was moaning in pain. Logan Boulet was next to him. Then I saw Bryce Fiske – his head was up and he had blood on his face but I wasn’t sure what was going on. I later found out in the hospital what had happened to him."

Fiske and Shumlanski, unlike 15 others in the crash outside tiny Tisdale, Sask., that horrific Friday afternoon, were alive.

Boulet was fatally wounded in the crash but was kept on life support long enough to have his organs donated to six patients in need, as per his instructions on the organ donor card he signed after his recent 21st birthday.

It was a scene no one should see, especially from the vantage point of a bloodied, immobile young man whose long list of injuries included a spinal injury that still has him unable to feel anything below his chest.

"We had people who had pulled over their cars who didn’t want to lift me because they didn’t know what was wrong – I said I couldn’t feel my legs so they didn’t move my neck and they waited for the ambulance," he said.

"I laid on the ground for at least 10 minutes, then they picked me up and rushed me to the Nipawin hospital and that’s all I remember."

Through it all, he insists he’s shed no tears of sorrow following the devastation.

"I want to show them how tough we are and how solid a team we were – if I cry maybe it shows a sign of weakness," he said.

"I want to show we’re still in this together."

He admits a tear borne out of unimaginable pain rolled down his cheek Monday when therapists helped him sit up for the very first time.

"That’s the only time I’ve shed a tear, or when they roll me over to change me and touch my back," he said.

"I’ve always been told to be a strong Canadian kid and things are going to get better if you just push through it and work hard.

"Pain doesn’t last forever."

He knows memories of the crash will, although he happily reports he has yet to suffer from any nightmares.

He thanks the pain medication for that.

Easing his pain have been visits from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Don Cherry, Sheldon Kennedy, Todd McLellan, Glen Gulutzan, his parents – Tom and Michelle – and, most importantly, his teammates.

"Such great people to do that for us," said Straschnitzki, whose sister and two brothers made the trip from Calgary to see him for the first time Tuesday.

"A couple of teammates have come to visit and seem to be doing okay. Reagan Poncelet, Matt Gomercic, Blake Berschiminsky and Nick Shumlanski have all come by. It’s just good to see them."

The last time he’d seen them before the crash the lads were gearing up for Game 5 of a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff series in nearby Nipawin that was supposed to be played mere hours later.

"It was more mellow," he said of the mood on the bus.

"We were down 3-1 in the series and we had one practice that morning and we knew what we needed to do. Everyone was getting amped up in their own way."

Within seconds many were fighting for their lives.

It’s a fight that has gripped the nation, raising more than $7.6 million through a GoFundMe.com page and sparking a #SticksOutforHumboldt Twitter campaign that has seen countless Canadians leaving hockey sticks in front of their house for the departed Broncos to use.

"I think that’s absolutely awesome," he said.

"It touches my heart. It’s pretty extraordinary what’s going on. When you think about it, what kid growing up in Canada didn’t play road hockey?

"We love the game and they’re showing if they’re still out there, pick up a stick and start a game."

Straschnitzki knows he’s a long shot to join that game anytime soon.

A broken left clavicle, broken ribs, internal bleeding in the head all contribute to his daily pain, but it’s a spinal fracture that has doctors telling him the prognosis of him walking again is not good.

"I don’t take it to heart – I look at it almost as a challenge – get through it and plan ahead," said the incredibly resilient young man.

"I’m just happy to be alive, to be honest."

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