By Andrew Millichamp
Kieran Block hopes to resume his once promising career on the ice, only in a slightly different way.
Block, a former Western Hockey League champion, is still on the ice three times a week. Only now he’s in a sledge instead of on skates.
Block broke both his legs in a cliff diving accident in Alberta in 2007.
“They weren’t sure if I was going to need an amputation right away,” Block told Humber News. “I had my first operation right when I got into the hospital, and then my second one was about ten to 12 hours later.”
Block had two operations and had an external fixator on the outside of his leg, simply to hold his leg in place due to the damage.
For a while doctors were unsure if Block would keep his legs.
“They were touching and feeling around my leg and asking me if I could feel this, and I was saying ‘no’,” Block said. “They touched one part of my foot and I kind of perked up and said ‘yup, I can feel that’.”
The spot Block could feel was a quarter of an inch on the top of his foot, but it was enough for doctors to decide against amputation.
“I knew my legs were damaged but I didn’t know how bad,” Block said.
“I didn’t really realize what the ramifications of the breaks were,” he said. “At first I just thought it was going to be like any other regular injury. I was going to rehab out of it and be out in a week or something like that.”
The significance of the damage soon became apparent to Block, as he was completely bedridden.
“It wasn’t until about the second or third week that I was even able to get up and out of bed,” he said. “And when I say out of bed I just mean transferring to a chair and being pushed around.”
After a month Block was able to return home, but found the down time hard to deal with.
“It was tough because at the time I was an elite athlete. I was playing hockey with the University of Alberta, I wanted to get back,” he said. “Mentally it was really, really tough. Physically was the easy stuff.”
Block turned to a childhood friend, Matt Cook, for help.
Cook had his left leg amputated below the knee in 2006, due to cancer.
Block needed to talk to someone who would understand his injury.
“When I phoned and talked to him I was really nervous, because I was phoning to talk to him about getting an amputation,” said Block, who was considering amputation to increase his mobility.
“I wanted to know what life was like having a disability. Everyone in my world, in my circle of friends, there was nothing wrong with them, physically speaking,” said Block. “Nobody could relate to me, I felt like I was being left behind.”
Cook, then a member of Canada’s sledge hockey team, told Block he would be a good sledge hockey player.
Block, still dealing with mixed emotions over his injury, didn’t jump at the chance.
“At the time I still wanted to be an elite athlete. I didn’t really understand that I could be an elite athlete playing sledge hockey,” he said. “I fought it for a long time. I also fought just being disabled. In the world I came from there was such negative connotations around it that I was afraid to open myself up to that world.”
Cook’s cancer later returned and he passed away in 2010 at the age of 22.
After his friend’s passing, Block decided to give sledge hockey a try.
“I didn’t get the opportunity to do it with him unfortunately, but I just thought I’ve got to give it a try,” said Block. “He just said it helped him so much.”
“I’m so fortunate and glad that I had someone like Matt to just show me and talk to me about so many things like that,” said Block. “It really helped me to come out of my shell.”
Block compared learning to play sledge hockey to learning to ride a bike when you’re 25 years old.
“It’s been a big challenge getting into the game, but it’s been so much fun and I definitely needed that time, just to accept that I was disabled,” he said.
Block said one of the biggest things he missed during his injury was a connection to a team. “I love it, I love the guys, it’s like family.”
Block has picked up the pieces of his life, and not just as a proud member of Canada’s sledge hockey team. He is now a substitute physical education teacher in Edmonton
“It’s such an honour to get to represent Canada,” he said. “Every time I think about it and every time I see my jersey I get chills.”
LISTEN: Canadian Paralympic hopeful Kieran Block talks to Humber News.
Its snowing; can't wait to be in Trail, BC with @HC_Sledge
— Kieran Block (@kieranhc23) October 20, 2012
— Team Canada Para (@HC_Para) October 22, 2012
Having a great time in Trail, off ice fitness testing coming up, then practice today!
— Kieran Block (@kieranhc23) October 23, 2012