Jack Jablonski is determined to turn a tragic event in his life into a reason to believe in miracles.
It was almost three years ago, in December 2011, when the then-sophomore was hit from behind while playing hockey for Benilde-St. Margaret's High School against Wayzata High during a game at a holiday tournament in St. Louis Park, Minn.
The check pushed him straight up against the boards and left Jablonski motionless on the ice. Following a 2 1/2-hour operation five days later, it was determined he had sustained a severed spinal cord in the neck. He was paralyzed from the chest down, and doctors felt at the time that it would take a miracle for Jablonski to recover full use of his arms and legs.
"When they told me there's a good chance I wouldn't be able to do this or do that, I said that's not how it's going to work," Jablonski told NHL.com. "I'm going to do that. They said it was going to take some time and I told them not to worry about it; I'll do it. Since then I've always kept that attitude."
With the aide of his family and friends, Jablonski has made a miraculous turnaround.
The 19-year-old took an ESPN personality to his prom and was voted high school homecoming king. He has his own weekly radio program on Sports Talk 105 The Ticket in Minneapolis, and through hard work at the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Minneapolis four days a week has regained full range of motion in his upper body and has been able to move his arms.
The Minneapolis native, who will enter the University of Southern California as a communications major in January, also helped establish the Jack Jablonski Bel13ve in Miracles Foundation in 2013.
On Saturday, the Foundation will team with the Minnesota Wild and Minnesota Hockey to kick off #StickTap2Hope during a "Night To Believe," a social initiative to raise awareness of recovery treatments available for people with spinal cord injuries.
"My message is all about staying positive," Jablonski said. "I realize there's always someone out there in a worse position. That's one thing I've tried to live by, knowing that I'm fortunate that my family and friends are there for me. You could always look at the negative, but there's no reason to dwell on it. As long as you're enjoying life and taking it for what it's worth, that's what is really important."
During the first intermission of the game between the Wild and Dallas Stars at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday, Jablonski, good friend and U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Jeremy Roenick, and 1980 "Miracle on Ice" U.S. Olympic Team members Neal Broten, Rob McClanahan and Dave Christian will lead an entire arena in hockey's largest stick tap event. Jablonski's parents, Mike and Leslie, will be in attendance among the thousands of fans participating in the stick tap.
"When someone gets injured in a hockey game and then gets up after a few minutes, teams from both sides usually tap their sticks on the ice as a sign of support and encouragement, and that's the theme we're going for on Saturday," Jablonski said.
Everyone in the arena will receive hockey thunder sticks so they can join in.
"I'm looking forward to it and excited to help promote awareness for others going through the same activity that I've been going through," Jablonski said. "It means a lot and I'm happy and feel fortunate to be in a position to help others."
The Foundation will host its annual gala before the game at the River Centre Exposition Hall; the event will feature a dinner, silent auction and special guest appearances. Proceeds will fund spinal cord injury recovery.
The Foundation awarded $100,000 for research grants and scholarships to provide others with similar injuries the treatment needed and for spinal cord research.
"I've been supported locally and throughout the hockey community and even nationally," Jablonski said. "I consider myself so lucky to be a part of a rehabilitation program, receive donations and raise money. That's where the hockey side kind of comes into play. Hockey and life require a team game, and I needed help from other people and have been fortunate to be given that opportunity, so I'm just trying to give back as much as I can."