On Dec. 6, 2011 life for an 18–year old northern Minnesota man changed in an instant.
Now a UMD student, and part of the Bulldog hockey team, Ezra's journey has been nothing short of miraculous.
Ezra McPhail was playing left wing with the Granite City Lumberjacks in 2011. “I was just finishing my check, routine thing. The defenseman went down to a knee and kind of cut a bit to the center of the ice. I wasn't expecting it and just went head–first into the boards,” Ezra said.
Ezra was rushed to the hospital with no feeling below the neck. He was lying in his hospital bed with the doctor beside him, on the phone with his mom. “He said yes you need to come down here, I don't know if your son will ever walk again. And that's when it all of a sudden just flooded over me and broke down into tears,” McPhail said.
Ezra suffered an incomplete spinal injury. At first he was angry and frightened. “I thought I didn't deserve this. I couldn't figure out, why me?” Ezra said.
Among the greatest losses he felt was the ability to play hockey. “That's what I wanted to do my whole life was just play college hockey. I thought that would just be the life. That would be so much fun. But, you know, dreams change I guess,” Ezra said.
When Ezra came to grips with the fact that he would never skate again he knew he needed a new dream. Sled hockey soon filled the void. “It's basically the same game. You see the same kind of players in the locker room and everything. I feel it's just the exact same,” Ezra said.
Ezra was getting his life back on track and though he was still in a wheel chair he got a job as student equipment manager for the Bulldog Hockey team.
With his outgoing personality and knowledge of hockey he quickly bonded with his new team mates. “I live with him and every day, when you come home, you're kind of having a bad day at the rink, you can come home and talk to him and you kind of get grounded a little bit,” UMD Bulldog Hockey, Adam Krause, said.
“If you just heard audio with one of our conversations you wouldn't know that I had a disability. They don't see it. They don't take that excuse for anything,” Ezra said.
Ezra gave himself no excuses either and with hard work and determination he is now able to walk with the help of crutches. “I just didn't want to be in a wheelchair anymore so I had to just push through, try to do something, anything,” Ezra said.
“It just shows you never to give up. He was in a wheel chair and now he's walking around pretty good and I think that is pretty neat and something you can take out of it. You gotta live every day. You can't take nothing for granted because you can snap your fingers and something could tragically happen like that,” UMD Bulldog Hockey, Dom Toninato, said.