Unfortunately, injuries are a major part of sports.
They can be minor or career-threatening, excruciatingly painful or merely nagging. But whenever an athlete enters the field of play, they are subjecting themselves to injury, however serious it could potentially be. Again, it's part of the game. Many athletes have been lost to season- or career-ending injuries suffered while playing the sport they love.
It's a completely different thing to suffer an injury of this sort in an accident outside of anything related to sports.
On Dec. 12, the Juneau-Douglas hockey team had a game against Lathrop on the University of Alaska-Fairbanks campus. The team had yet to win a game, but was improving each week.
Suddenly, there was an unexpected setback.
While traveling to the game in a van that morning, a woman driving a truck ran a red light as the van carrying the players was turning left in an intersection. In a split second, the van was hit on the side, near the back of the vehicle, by the truck.
"I saw the car coming at us, and all I remember was a snapshot of the car, that's it," said senior defenseman Robin Woodby. "The next thing I knew, I was coming to consciousness - I'm pretty sure I was unconcious - and John (Kenyon) and I were the only ones left in the car at that point as people were getting out.
"I wasn't thinking very clearly and most of my vision was gone. It was very blotchy."
Woodby said he didn't think anything was seriously wrong and felt that he was just oblivious to the fact that he wasn't thinking clearly at the time, but decided it would be a good idea to get checked for injuries. He was unaware of the fact that the van had spun around uponimpact.
At the time, his teammate, John Kenyon, was still in the van.
"Everyone was getting out and I saw Robin leaning off to the side and making some weird motions and I thought, 'Oh dang,'" Kenyon said. "I thought I should try to get up, but I couldn't lift my legs... I thought I probably shouldn't move."
Kenyon, who was sitting in the back seat of the van with Woodby, was diagnosed with a fractured pelvis at the hospital in Fairbanks.
"At first, I thought the worst - I thought I was paralyzed," he said. "But then I realized I could move my toes and I had feeling, so that thought went away pretty fast."
He said he checked his legs and everything seemed fine, but the thought of a fractured pelvis never entered his mind. Kenyon and Woodby were transported by ambulance to the hospital, while teammates Nick Rutecki and Cole Carnahan were later taken to the hospital to make sure they had not suffered any serious injuries.
Kenyon said after the X-ray revealed the pelvic fracture, the medical staff examined everything else for any additional injury considering the high-impact nature of the car collision, but found nothing else.
Woodby's experience was different.
He said he felt a slight pain in his neck but had no idea of the severity of his injury, although, he was aware that he was most likely concussed.
"I've tweaked muscles in my neck before and it felt to me like a muscle injury, combined with a concussion, I guess," he said. "I told (the medical staff) that my neck was in pain, but all they really checked me for was my head. They did a CT scan of just my head, they didn't include the neck, just to make sure everything from the concussion was ok."
After more than a week had passed, Woodby was still experiencing pain in his neck. Dr. Gordon Bozarth, an orthopedic spine surgeon and the father of Griffin Bozarth, a teammate of Woodby's and Kenyon's, told Woodby that young people usually recover quickly from muscle injuries, even in the neck.
"He saw me at the following home game and just saw how stiff I was. He said kids my age bounce back from muscle injuries in the neck in just a few days, and it had already been a week and a half," he said. "He knew right away there was something much more serious with my neck."
After an appointment with Dr. Bozarth, Woodby said he finally found out the true extent of the damage. Not only was he misdiagnosed in Fairbanks, but he had a fractured vertebra, and his vertebrae were not in perfect alignment.
Kenyon and Woodby would officially miss the remainder of their senior seasons.
"Initially, when they told me I had a broken pelvis I was pretty sad and awfully worried," Kenyon said. "I was really going to miss spending time with the team. This is my last year in Juneau, actually, because I'm moving to the Netherlands next year. So I'm really going to miss spending time with my teammates because I don't get to do that as much now.
"I was going to try my hardest this year, and this was going to be my last year of hockey because I didn't plan on playing in college. But now I might since I didn't get to play this season."
Kenyon's father is in the U.S. Coast Guard and has been transferred to the Netherlands. Kenyon, who was born in Arizona and has moved around over the years with his father's military obligations, will spend the summer overseas but plans on attending the University of Montana where he will study to become a teacher. He said he also will probably try to play hockey or lacrosse.
Woodby said the injury has put some perspective on the season, considering he thought, at first, that the injury wouldn't be season-ending.
"Originally, I was pretty bummed that I would be missing out on the rest of the road trip. Right after it happened I thought it might clear up by morning - I wasn't even considering that I'd be out the rest of the year," he said. "In the morning, it was still pretty bad and I had to fly back, but even then I thought I'd be back in a few weeks.
"But when I found out it was broken, it was pretty emotional at first. Also, on the bright side, it could have been a lot worse. It was probably the best it could have been for a broken neck."
Both players said there is a silver lining: each will eventually recover fully from their injuries.
Woodby plans on studying in the fields of science or engineering at a school on the West Coast. He has already been accepted to Stanford, his No. 1 school of choice.
After the accident that day, the JDHS hockey team picked up its play and earned its first victory of the season, against a tough conference opponent in Lathrop, no less.
Coach Dave McKenna said losing the two players was a difficult thing for the team to deal with, even after getting the win.
"We said as a group that we were looking forward to the time when we could beat a good Fairbanks team for the first time. We did that, but it was right after that accident. That overshadowed everything," he said. "So, as much as we wanted to celebrate, we really didn't feel like it because it was a scary moment and they were two quality players," he said. "They were great presences both on and off the ice, and were two of our smarter and more skilled players with really stable personalities in the locker room - something you hope for as a coach."
Both Kenyon and Woodby said the team has supported them, and vice versa, as they have sat and watched the remainder of the games.
"They're definitely very supportive and they try to keep us as part of the team, and don't treat us like we're off the team," Woodby said. "At these games, we come and talk with them in the locker rooms. We're still on the team, we're just not out there on the ice."
Kenyon said they've tried to keep a sense of normalcy by staying involved.
"We just do what we've been doing, just going to games and meetings and things where we don't have to do any physical activity," he said. "Robin and I are actually in charge of doing a video for the end-of-the-year banquet."
Though watching games from the sideline has been tough, both players said it's not bad seeing the game from a different angle. They also said the parents and fans have been very supportive of them.
All the people seem to be very supportive, but during the games it's been difficult," Kenyon said. "I don't really like watching - I'd rather be out there."
"All the parents are very, very supportive," he said. "It's difficult being at the game, but also it's a different look at the game that can be fun, too."
As for the upcoming playoffs, both players feel confident in their team's growth over the course of the year.
"Even though we've lost a few players on the team, I think we're still looking very strong and we definitely are working very hard," Woodby said. "And you can see that. Even off the ice you can see how hard they work."
Kenyon said he likes his team's chances in the playoffs, even going up against West Valley in the first round.
"I think there's definitely a chance. Honestly, I thought we'd get beat a lot more than we did in the first few games," he said. "They're a pretty strong team, but I don't think they're the better team."
"They (West Valley) are the toughest competition in our conference, so that'll be a tough one to start out with," Woodby added. "But if we get over that hump, then it'll definitely inspire us to go even further.
"Even if we don't win, it'll push us to play our best."
As for teams in the conference that view Juneau-Douglas as inferior heading into the playoffs, Woodby had a message for them.
"They better keep their heads up if they know what's good for them," he said. "Or else they're just going to get surprised and they're not going to be happy at the end of the game."
It's safe to say that despite their injuries, their competitive edge was not lost in the crash.
Matthew Tynan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 523-2267.