|12-25-2001, 06:43 AM||#1|
Shoot for a Cure is right on target
Shoot for a Cure is right on target
By MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun
They say you always remember where you were when you discover great truths.
Kurt Gengenbach is no different. He was in a wheelchair.
He had been since January 1989, when, as a member of a Markham AA team, he veered toward a puckhandling defenceman in a midget rep playoff game.
He had made two mistakes. The first involved his skates. Constant sharpening had sheared the metal at the front of the blade, exposing the hard plastic housing.
"I meant to put on new blades but I didn't want to use new ones in our first playoff game," he said.
The second mistake was in his approach.
"I went straight at the defenceman and by doing that, I put myself in a really vulnerable position when I tripped," he said.
Untouched, Gengenbach went head first not just into the boards but into the statistical column that shows 20 spinal cord injuries a year in the only countries where a count is kept -- Canada, the United States, and Sweden. He was paralyzed from the chest down, with limited use of his arms.
Fast forward to 1997, when Gengenbach, by now working at the National Hockey League Players' Association, was scanning the Canoe internet site.
"I came across a story where Wayne Gretzky was talking about what age kids should have contact," Gengenbach said. "Wayne's point was that they should start learning as early as possible because contact was just as much a skill you had to learn as a backhand. He pointed out that kids often go straight to the boards instead of at an angle. I thought to myself, 'Wayne has just described my accident.' That's when it dawned on me, what I could offer up."
What Gengenbach could offer is called Shoot for a Cure and it's embossed on many of the baseball hats worn by players during television interviews.
Gengenbach has drawn on his contacts from his days with the union to create a network of supporters throughout the league. Brad May of the Phoenix Coyotes is the chairman of the organization and every NHL team has at least one player involved in Shoot for a Cure.
They include players touched by spinal injuries, such as the Colorado Avalanche's Ted Drury, who was on the ice with Travis Roy when the young Boston College player became a paraplegic after crashing into the boards; Grant Marshall of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who suffered a broken neck but recovered; and Brian Savage of the Montreal Canadiens, who also recovered from a serious neck injury.
By season's end, Gengenbach will have met with every NHL team save for the Detroit Red Wings.
Shoot for a Cure is part advisory board, part charity. Its twin mandates are fundraising -- so far it has generated $200,000, nearly half of it from NHL player donations - and providing information to players at any level.
When he meets with NHL players, Gengenbach talks about his injury and the techniques that could have prevented it as well as developments in the treatment of spinal injuries.
Only in the fraternal world that is hockey could a wheelchair-bound man be given access to the game's greatest players.
"Could you see baseball asking players to go straight to the conference room when they reach the hotel to hear a presentation on spinal injuries?" Gengenbach said.
When he was injured, volunteers raised $150,000 through one dinner. It is this way with the game. Those whose greatest hurt has come through hockey are feted by those most gifted by the game.
Money is being channelled into spinal cord research, and Gengenbach has a truckload of plans in the area of education. In the works are instructional videos being written on the right way to avoid injury and improve play. Taped drills on proper positioning could feature NHL players and Gengenbach is hopeful of incorporating them into game presentations in NHL arenas, even e-mailing them to minor hockey players.
Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice, a Hollywood production starring Stephen Baldwin and Gary Busey, will be released in the new year and Shoot for a Cure is listed as the movie's charity of choice.
Gengenbach has no trouble linking Shoot for a Cure with the on-screen return of thuggish "old-time" hockey.
"Anybody who understands hockey knows that's not the way to play the game," he said.
The video version of the movie will carry public service ads about safe play. Premieres of the movie could net several hundred thousand dollars worth of donations to Shoot for a Cure.
Gengenbach has one special movie invitation to tender and it will be directed toward the man who started it all. Not the defenceman along the boards, but the skinny centre who played the game best.
"I'd love five minutes with Wayne Gretzky," Gengenbach said, "just to tell him how much what he said meant to me."
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