Last weekend marked a somber anniversary for Kyrell Sopotyk, but he's not letting it get him down.
The Kamloops Blazers forward was left paralyzed following a Jan. 22, 2021, snowboarding accident in Saskatchewan, ending his promising hockey career in an instant — but not his career as a competitive athlete.
The 20-year-old told Castanet Kamloops his new goal is to compete on the Paralympic stage.
Sopotyk was snowboarding with some friends near North Battleford, Sask. last year when he took a fall.
“It's blurry, obviously. I couldn't tell you how it actually all happened, but I just know it was an awkward fall. [I] was out for a little bit and then came back to realization and all of a sudden [I] knew what was going on and that it was a pretty serious injury,” Sopotyk said.
“I knew right away that I had a spinal cord injury and I was going to be paralyzed — and I couldn't feel my legs.”
Sopotyk is back home in Saskatchewan making a plan or the future. He said he wants to go school in the fall but isn’t sure yet what for.
He said he’s been keeping himself busy, staying in shape and keeping active.
“I’ve been racing. I’ve got racing a couple times a week,” he said.
“I’ve been playing basketball. So that's a couple times a week, as well. I mean, other than that, I ride my FES bike at home. I go to the gym and do workouts and stretch and stuff."
In February, Sopotyk said he’ll be making a trip to the Tournament Capital — his first since his injury — to see his old teammates and fans. He said he'll have the chance to attend two home games while visiting.
“Since the day I got hurt, it was always something I wanted to do — to go back to Kamloops and see the guys, see the coaches, see everyone,” Sopotyk said.
“See the fans — I know they've all been supporting me.”
After his accident, Sopotyk received an outpouring of support from the community. An online fundraiser set up for him following the accident raised nearly $200,000.
“I know they've [community of Kamloops] always been behind me and thinking about me and stuff. So I feel that support and I just want to be able to let them know that I do know they're behind me.”
Sopotyk told Castanet Kamloops that he set a new goal following his injury — to become a Paralympic athlete.
“I mean, playing hockey growing up, I was always that athletic and competitive guy, so soon as I was in the hospital that was always a thought," he said.
"If I could get into sports … obviously I want to be a Paralympian one day now, considering the circumstances.”
Sopotyk said he would like to pursue racing in the Paralympics, and he's competed in one race so far.
“I think it was always something [racing] I’d seen, and I really wanted to try it,” he said.
“I’ve been doing it. I've had one race only so far — just in Saskatoon, a local one. But, I mean, there's opportunities coming up, hopefully, if COVID slows down a little bit.”