“Packing for London.” The recent Facebook message on Zak Madell’s page was not the text of a holiday-maker setting out for a two-week excursion. It was a statement made by an 18-year old defenceman, the youngest member of the Canadian Wheelchair Rugby team, as he readied himself for London’s Paralympic Games.
For Madell’s uncle, Jack Andrews of Sicamous, this statement made his heart soar.
“Zak has been an inspiration to our family for a long time. He is an amazingly courageous young man,” said Andrews, as he explained, “When Zak was 10 years old a rapid-onset bacterial infection caused him to go into septic shock. It was highly destructive. His body was able to protect his brain and his heart, but other organs suffered from deadly effects of toxins and lack of oxygen. There was a great deal of tissue damage, resulting in the amputation of Madell’s legs and his fingers.
Andrews credits the amazing medical staff at Alberta Children’s hospital and Madell’s mother, Wendy, for being there for her son.
“He was a very sick boy. No one knew for six months if he would even survive. Each day could have been his last day,” explained Andrews. “Zak’s mother didn’t leave his bedside for six months. She was his rock.”
Hundreds of surgical and other interventions later, Madell was in London, representing Canada.
This spring, Andrews watched his nephew play at Vancouver’s Canada Cup, an invitational wheelchair rugby event that featured the teams that would be playing against each other in London.
“When Zak came on the court he was pure energy. He picked up the whole team and he picked up the speed of the game. He played so hard, both at offence and defence. Zak changed the dynamics of the game when he was on the court,” said Andrews proudly.
Once again, Andrews quickly credits not only the amazing abilities and spirit of his nephew, as he noted Madell’s mother continued to be by her son’s side.
“Getting to this point is not something that happened in isolation. Wendy takes Zak to an endless array of medical appointments in addition to time with a personal trainer, to weight-lifting and to a school track to work out three to four times a week,” said Andrews.
Madell is part of a 12-member Canadian team.
And on that team, in believe-it-or-not fashion, is another terrific athlete with a Sicamous connection. In fact, the connection is not only to community, it is to the same avenue in Sicamous.
“Trevor Hirshfield, is a super-solid good player. He knows the sport well. I think he has been on the international team since about 2006. He has a great knack for getting free, open, easy scores,” said Andrews.
Hirschfield’s, grandparents, Don and Pat Grant, lived across the street from the Andrews, and it was while visiting his Sicamous grandparents that the life-changing accident took place.
“Oh, I so remember it,” said Andrews. “He was a 16-year old or thereabouts. So, he wasn’t an experienced driver. He was on his way up a Sicamous logging road in the family van to party with other young kids. When he courteously pulled the van over to let an oncoming vehicle pass, Trevor’s van rolled off the road and hit a tree. Trevor was a quadriplegic as a result of the accident.”
Andrews said the accident was utterly heart-breaking for everyone.
“Yet, as tough as it was, what I remember is his grandparents keeping us updated on Trevor’s progress at G.F. Strong Rehab Centre. They were awed by his emotional strength.”
Andrews explained that wheelchair rugby is not for sissies.
“This is an aggressive full-contact sport. They call it ‘murderball’ for a good reason.”
Andrews is filled with confidence for the Canadian team.
“They are well coached and well disciplined. They play inspired rugby.”
Editor’s note: Since the article was written, Canada claimed the silver medal in wheelchair rugby after a final loss to Australia. Congratulations to Madell and Hirshfield on their accomplishment.