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Former Broncos player has sights set on Paralympic wheelchair basketball

Survivor of tragic Humboldt bus crash pursuing dreams in other sport
Airdrie’s Ryan Straschnitzki makes a pass during the wheelchair rugby jamboree in Penhold, Alberta, in June, hosted by the Red Deer Reapers. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/ Advocate staff)

Ryan Straschnitzki’s Paralympic dreams haven’t fizzled, but his path to the international stage could take him from the ice to the hardwood.

The 24-year-old from Airdrie, Alta., was paralyzed from the chest down in 2018 when a semi-trailer ran a stop sign and barrelled into the path of the Humboldt Broncos’ bus in rural Saskatchewan.

Sixteen people died and 13 were seriously injured.

Since the crash, Straschnitzki has played on Alberta’s para hockey team and has been training with the Paralympic development team.

However, his Paralympic hockey goals have hit a bump in the road.

“In the past conversations I’ve had with management within that program, it’s not looking good, but all I can do is train and work hard,” he said in an interview.

Straschnitzki said he’s hoping to get an invitation to try out for Canada’s Paralympic hockey team in September.

“But that’s completely out of my control,” he said.

What is in his control is embracing other sports, including wheelchair basketball.

“I stayed so fixated on hockey my entire life, I never really got to embrace other sports at the highest level and now that I have this opportunity, I think, ‘well why not?’”

As a result, Straschnitzki plans to join a wheelchair basketball league this winter and hopefully make it to the Paralympics.

“I have to really get into practices and games so I can work on the skills a little bit,” Straschnitzki said while he was shooting hoops Thursday at Vecova, an organization that provides services and advocacy for people with disabilities. He was recently named its first ambassador.

Straschnitzki hopes to make it to the development level of the Canadian wheelchair basketball Paralympic team and then represent the country before the 2028 Games.

He also completed an accessibility certification course with the Rick Hansen Foundation earlier this year about a national rating system that measures the physical access of buildings and other sites.

Hansen, who created the foundation, is best known as the Man In Motion for his wheelchair trip around the world in the 1980s to draw attention to people with disabilities and find a cure for paralysis.

Straschnitzki said he realizes he has strengths and weaknesses on the court at this point.

“I’m not bad. I can wheel around. I’m in a chair all the time, so I understand how to wheel, how to move,” he said.

“I’ve just got to work on my shot a little bit and learn how to play the system.”

Straschnitzki, who also took up para golf a year ago, is hosting his own charity golf tournament in August to ensure adaptive sports are available to anyone who wants to participate.

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