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Though badly hurt in a hockey accident, 16-year-old hopes to one day skate again

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  • Though badly hurt in a hockey accident, 16-year-old hopes to one day skate again

    Though badly hurt in a hockey accident, 16-year-old hopes to one day skate again
    By Ken Stejbach

    Theres a little mischief in everyone. Even in Taylor Chace.
    Hampton Falls resident Taylor Chace exercises on a treadmill in a body-weight support system called Lite Gait at Columbia Rehabilitation Services at Portsmouth Regional Hospital.

    Staff photo by Ken Stejbach Early in December, Chace and his sister, Rossli, were full of mischief. With their parents not home, the two went outside and Taylor slipped into his in-line skates. Well, maybe not exactly slipped into them. With a little help from his sister, a lot of foot powder and a great deal of determination, though, the 16-year-old from Hampton Falls finally got them on. That was only half the battle. Grabbing a hockey stick and buoyed by his sister, he struggled and finally stood up.

    Thats when all the mischief and suspense vanished.

    "I could not move," said Taylor, noting that he had no feeling or balance.
    When Taylors parents, Rick and Lisa, got home later that day they quickly noticed their son was downcast. They soon found out why.

    While it felt good to get a pair of skates on, the disappointment he suffered when he found he couldnt move was extremely depressing.

    It was one big step back for Taylor Chace, the Taylor Chace who wants to play hockey ... again.

    A lot to read

    "People think Im all better because I walk, but they dont read between the lines," Taylor said last week as he went through his physical therapy exercises at Columbia Portsmouth Regional Rehabilitation Services.

    Taylor was injured in a junior hockey game in Toronto on Oct. 6 while playing for the Junior Monarchs in an exhibition game. After being transported to a hospital in Lindsay, Ontario, he was airlifted to Toronto Western Hospital, where he spent six hours in surgery. Taylor was skating at top speed down the right wing and was hit by a defender as he took a shot. Knocked off balance by the check, he hit the boards going backward. His spinal injury was described as a burst fracture of his L-1 vertebra.

    At the time, there were grave concerns about his not ever being able to walk again. Thoughts of never playing hockey again were kept to whispers by his friends. But Taylor knew his chances of possibly playing Division I college hockey were gone.

    About a week ago, Dr. Joan Breen, medical director of the daytime neuro-rehabilitation program at Portsmouth Regional Hospital, was at the Verizon Center in Manchester with her husband, also a doctor, to see the University of New Hampshire play Dartmouth in a mens hockey game. It was there she spotted Taylor, whom she had helped treat, walking in the lobby. There was no visible sign of a limp, and a wonderful sight it was. She had seen him in the stands at other UNH games this season, but then he was always in a wheelchair.

    "Hes worked incredibly hard," Breen said. "Hes doing far better than anyone would have predicted at this point. But its because of his hard work."

    Step by step

    Hes gone from being able to sit up in a wheelchair, to sitting up and being able to move his legs, to actually standing - an excruciatingly painful experience - to making his first step with the aid of parallel bars.

    Taylor was transferred from Toronto Western to the Northeast Regional Center in Salem on Oct. 18. Three weeks later, on Nov. 9, he was back home in Hampton Falls.

    Loft Strand crutches came next. Theyre the kind that support your arms while you grip the handles with your hands. Being able to use those, said Taylor, was "the best feeling."

    Somehow, during this healing process, he even managed to take his drivers test and pass it. Late in December he began using a cane, made specially by his father from one of Taylors old hockey sticks, and given to him on Christmas Eve.

    As happy as he was to receive and use it, however, he said hes probably going to burn it when all this is done.

    "I dont want memories," Taylor said, noting that using the cane and being in the wheelchair are bad ones.

    His first day back at school was about three weeks ago.

    "That was real hard," said Taylor, "one of the hardest things Ive done."

    Not hard physically, just mentally.

    "People didnt know what to say to me," said Taylor, noting the awkwardness of the situation.

    Once everyone stopped all the questions, though, things got back to normal and "everything was better."

    Just after Christmas he began walking without the aid of a cane.

    Not an easy road

    "The biggest thing about this whole thing is attitude and the mind, how you approach it," said Taylor. "Everything has to be positive. I cant look back."
    Just dont tell him he cant do anything.

    "Instead of listening to what everyone else has to say, listen to yourself," said Taylor, who has worked extremely hard to get back on his feet.

    What drives him every day, he said, is the need to prove something.

    "I proved I could walk again, I proved a lot stuff and Ive yet to prove other things," he said. "Basically, I just want to be someone whos known as a person who went beyond what was expected."

    Currently, he spends three hours a day, four times a week, in therapy. Twice a week, after his morning session at school, hes at Columbia Regional Rehabilitation Services working with therapists. The other two days he works under the therapeutic eye of Tom Evans, a physical therapist from Victory Training in Hampton.

    He still has no feeling in his toes. Theres some numbness in his calves, too, and he still has a few problems with his hip area and with his balance.

    Life, too, has been one learning step after another for Taylor, who before his injury was expected to be a Division I-level college hockey player. There was even talk about his someday playing for the University of New Hampshire, whose team, under the guidance of head coach Dick Umile, has taken Taylor under its wing.

    The days of crying, wondering, "Why me?" are gone.

    "I throw things now," said Taylor with a laugh, noting that he still cant find an answer as to why it happened. "I just dont get it."

    Taylor uses a simple analogy: Life, he said, has become like a wall of blocks. He felt like he was about to put the last one into place, he said, when someone came and knocked it over and the entire wall crumbled to the floor.

    Now hes at the point where hes built the foundation back up.

    "I got the cement down," Taylor said.

    Changing goals

    At last weeks physical therapy session, Taylor and his mother, Lisa, were trying to obtain a dry land skating machine from Dartmouth College, which could possibly help exercise his legs so that he could someday skate again.

    "My goal is to skate without assistance in the future," said Taylor.

    "All day long I think about playing hockey, and thats why I push myself hard every day," he said. "Some day Id like to play some sort of hockey."

    Not competitive. Not physical or with checking. The risk of re-injuring himself would be too high.

    When he daydreams now, he said, he reflects back on those occasions when he used to go to stick practice at The Rinks at Exeter and play in pickup games and skate and handle the puck.

    Lifes lessons

    "I had no idea this was going to happen," Taylor said. "Every time you get an opportunity to play a sport or do something you love to do, do it with 100 percent because you never know when its going to be over.

    "I dont think theres anything better than being an athlete. Id like to pursue other sports, and Im trying to find something else I can do, like golf or crew, but I havent really looked into it that much yet."

    Another of his short-term goals is to help someone who has a similar problem.
    Taylor has also learned about people.

    "Everyone does care about you," he said. "People are a lot nicer than you think. People help you a lot more than you think."

    Taylor has received continual encouragement by the mail he has gotten from all parts of the country, even from professional athletes. He is also a regular guest of the UNH hockey program. This past Saturday he was the guest of the president of the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League. He and his family and friends sat in a booth with two injured Monarchs players. He also visited their locker room after what turned out to be a 4-4 tie.
    It was an awesome Saturday night, Taylor said.

  • #2
    My favourite part of this story:

    "Hes worked incredibly hard," Breen said. "Hes doing far better than anyone would have predicted at this point. But its because of his hard work."