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INCREDIBLE JOURNEY

20-year-old Graysen Cameron was told he would never play hockey again. But he never stopped believing, and after a summer working towards a comeback, he's ready to lace up the skates with the Humboldt Broncos again

by BRENDAN PARKER @BParkerTV / CalgaryFlames.com

Inspirational.

Amazing.

Remarkable.

Those are just a few of the words used by Flames players, management and the team's training staff to describe Graysen Cameron.

The 20-year-old suffered a fractured L4 vertebrae when the Humboldt Broncos team bus was hit by a semi-trailer truck on April 6, 2018, a tragic crash that claimed the lives of 16 people and injured 13 others.

Cameron was told he'd never play hockey again - but has spent the last number of months working towards a comeback.

In January, Cameron was cleared to start slowing getting back into things.

His journey ramped up after a phone call to Flames General Manager Brad Treliving, who developed a relationship with Cameron after visiting him and Ryan Straschnitzki at Foothills Hospital after the accident.

"This spring he reached out and just said 'Listen, I'm looking to maybe go back and play and I want to get my training in, do you know of anybody who can help me? I said 'Ya, I know a couple of guys who are pretty dialed in to that'," Treliving said.

Those guys, of course, are team strength and conditioning coaches Ryan van Asten and Alan Selby, who over the last couple of seasons have trained a small group of Flames players every summer.

The group consists of veterans and prospects that call the Calgary and area home and will vary depending on who's in town on any given week.

So, the Olds native began making the 107-km trek to the Edge School in Springbank every day to work with the Flames.

 

Video: Messages for Humboldt Bronco Graysen Cameron

 

Cameron was open-minded and ready to work, but unsure of what to expect.

"I obviously started meeting the guys and they welcomed me in right away, they were talking to me, treating me with a lot of respect and I know I wasn't part of the organization or anything, but they took me in right away and made sure to push me with all the workouts," Cameron said over the phone from Humboldt. "Everything, it was just great - great to be a part of."

Flames prospect and Red Deer native Andrew Nielsen - who was also a part of the Edge group - said Cameron was "kind of hesitant" when he first arrived.

Naturally.

But in time, those nerves made way for the will of a champion.

"I don't think he fully knew what he could push himself to until he got here," Nielsen said. "You could tell he was a little nervous, which is expected. Just for him to even show up and want to get back into hockey and into the lifestyle so quick is pretty brave."

The adjustment was difficult for many reasons, not just due to the injury.

"The style of training is just something he'd never done before, initially it was quite a shock to his system to train like that but he's a young guy, he adapts pretty quickly," van Asten said. "He obviously has the work ethic to do that as well. He put in the work to adapt to the training and by the end of the summer it clearly had an impact on him. Not only what he looked like physically but how he moved and all the different aspects of strength and conditioning."

His worth ethic quickly caught everyone's attention.

"This is a young guy that has a lot going on but he still showed up to the gym," said van Asten. "He's training with guys that have a lot of experience under their belts and he didn't quit. He clearly wanted it. He clearly wanted to be better as an athlete, he wants to be back on the ice and he wants to have an impact as a hockey player."

"He just works," veteran Flames defenceman Michael Stone said. "He would run up the hill and then throw up - he only did it the one time but I'm going to bug him about it! He would just walk back down and run up again, like he didn't quit on anything; he was there as much as he could. It was awesome."

And that work certainly paid off. Cameron says he put on seven to 10 pounds of muscle thanks to the program van Asten and Selby put together.

"My skating was massively improved just from the exercises we were doing," Cameron said. "They're some of the best in the business - so it made a massive difference and it was stuff I had never really done before. It was cool to see the progression throughout the summer cause there was quite a big difference."

Dillon Dube and Glenn Gawdin were among those surprised to learn of Cameron's story once they started training together.

"I saw him in there just working so hard every single day," said Dube. "At the start of the first day I thought he was a prospect - he looked good, he looked strong."

"I joined the guys later and he said he played in Humboldt but he looked pretty good, and then one of the guys told me he broke his back. For him training with us at the level he was training at - it was kind of remarkable," Gawdin explained.

Even more remarkable is this weekend Cameron is set to play in the Broncos home-opener, his first official game back in Humboldt.

"Been thinking a bit lately about those times coming off my last surgery, last November, and how far I've come just since then. It doesn't seem like it's been long but it also feels like it's been the longest year ever," Cameron said.

"It's mixed emotions, but I'm just grateful I get to be here."

And while his summer training partners are in the middle of their own training camp, they're also keeping a close watch on Cameron, and cheering him on every step of the way.

"I can only imagine how emotional that night's going to be, to throw on that Bronco green, and I would just tell him to have fun with it, play hockey," Nielsen said. "Play for everyone that you are going through it with, remember the guys that aren't with you but also just put it aside and play hockey again.

"Be the player that he is and just play for the love of the game that night."

Truly an incredible journey.

"We're all wishing him the best of luck, we're all supporting him, we're all thinking about him. You know for a lot of us, we're all hoping he has a lot of fun in his last year, and when he's having fun he'll do his thing out there," Dube said.

"He wants it," Gawdin added. "Coming back from something that no one should have to go through. Obviously he loves the game, that work ethic and everything he believes, it kind of rubs off on everyone."

While it was Cameron looking for some help training - he should take great pride knowing over the course of the summer, he was the one that left the biggest impact.

"First and foremost, we just wanted to thank him for coming and joining our group because he's an inspiration to a lot of our players," van Asten said.

"He's an awesome kid, he definitely inspired me and everyone in the gym this summer to push through, and he's a part of our group for whenever he wants to come back," Nielsen added. "We're going to be following him and cheering him on all season."

"I was pretty fortunate just to be part of his story and what he's overcome," said Dube. "I was really proud just to be in the same room as him."

"It's amazing," Stone said. "It was cool to witness, but that's all I would call it. I was a witness; I mean he was an inspiration to us, not the other way around. Just amazing what he's done."

Cameron insists he's the lucky one, for getting the chance to spend the summer working alongside his Flames peers.

"It's a great feeling to have those types of guys say that about you, I'm just incredibly humbled by it," Cameron said. "I appreciate everything they've done for me all throughout the summer, because without them I wouldn't be where I'm at either.

"Just incredibly grateful to be able to get to know those guys."

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