Q. I’m going to jump right in and ask you to describe how you became a double amputee.
I was 17 and it was right after a high school dance. My friend Tyler and I, along with 4 girls from the dance, were on our way to a friend’s house and we got a flat tire. Tyler and I had gotten out of the car to change the flat, when I saw white lights, and boom, we got hit.
Q. Your first thoughts?
I was conscious, but I was worried about Tyler, as he wasn’t moving, so I tried to get to him. I was flat on my back and kept trying to push to stand up, but couldn’t. I knew something was wrong with my legs, but didn’t really know what had happened.
Q. I heard you were both really lucky to have survived the accident.
We were. The girls in the car and friends that came along right after the accident piled their coats on me as I felt really cold, was probably in shock. Then the firemen arrived. It was a combination of their quick response and the fact that it was so cold that kept us alive.
Q. How long after the accident before you tried sled hockey?
About 6 months. I had no energy, I was small, my hand had no grip from my arm being broken, it kinda sucked. Neither Tyler or I liked it.
Q. Why did you go back to it?
Corey Fairbanks, of the Colorado Avalanche Sled Hockey team, was pretty insistent about getting me to try again. My arm was better and so I tried it and fell in love with it. After one of my first tournaments, J.J. O’Connor (of USA Disabled Hockey) and Jim Smith (current President of USA Hockey) were very supportive. They said I had potential, but needed some better and newer equipment.
That is one of thing most difficult thing about being involved in this type of sport is trying to get sponsors, you really have to do all the work yourself to get any assistance.
Q. Were you aware of sled hockey before your accident?
I was super unaware of any Paralympic sports, very naive. I played hockey since I was really young but I didn’t know a thing about any type of adaptive sport. My accident was a wake up call for me. Not only to the world of adaptive sports but also to how people look at you differently. I probably did the same thing before my accident.
Q. How do you handle people looking at you differently than before?
I have prosthetics, but I do walk around with a swagger. I think it’s a hockey thing. My way of saying I just don’t care. When kids ask me about my legs, I want to share with them so they don’t see them as strange. Until I was 17 I thought I was invincible, yet one instance and life changes. I now realize that having legs is a privilege, people don’t get it. Sometimes it’s easy to feel bad for yourself. So I work on being mentally happy and cool with my situation and centered.
Q. What drives you to work as hard as you do?
When I get out on the ice, I just feel free. I’m very competitive. When I put on a jersey I’m ready to get into a game. It doesn’t feel like there are any barriers and it’s just me playing with a bunch of teammates and wanting to win. I don’t like to be second or last, just want to be first, and being a part of the US Paralympic team and representing my country is really an honor.
Q. What would you say to a young person who has recently become an amputee?
Ignore people. I don’t mean they should keep people out of their life, but find the positives. There are a lot of negatives. You can hate everything or love everything. You will get angry after you get hurt. You need to learn to channel your anger and use it in a positive way versus negative. You need to let the anger go and find forgiveness. I am still working on that.
Q. What is your favorite movie?
I have a couple of them, Gladiator, Brave Heart, and Mystery, Alaska.
Q. Favorite song?
If I’m good and feeling relaxed I listen to reggae. I like Tribal Seeds and Rebelution and know the guys in the band.
Q. Who is your inspiration?
My Mom inspires me. She is a super strong woman who has been through a lot. Being next to me in the hospital, seeing me almost dead, and being able to forgive. She has a bigger heart than me. Pretty cool lady.
Q. This may be a no-brainer, but favorite NHL team?
Q. Tell me a few fun things about Nikko that we don’t usually hear about.
• I speak Italian.
• I am a softy – I cry a lot at movies.
• I have a yellow lab named Maverick and he pulls me when I’m in my wheelchair.
• Music is a big thing to me. It really touches me. I’ve played almost every instrument (accordion, cello, drums, strings, wind instruments).