Saturday afternoon at Calgary's WinSport Centre marked a brand new beginning for a young man from Airdrie whose life was completely changed this past spring.

Ryan Straschnitzki, 19, was paralyzed from the chest down in the crash involving the Humboldt Broncos team bus on April 6.

While he was in hospital, he pledged that he would get back on the ice and knew that sledge hockey was the way to do it.

After weeks of practice, Straschnitzki finally played his first official game of his new sport in support of STARS Air Ambulance.

There was a significant showing of support for the young man at his first game too.

“Ryan is one of our neighbours and he’s been through everything that nobody would ever want to go through, he’s been very positive though this whole journey,” said Toni Gemmell. “I think it’s awesome to see the community pull together for Ryan, the family and STARS.”

The event, Cowboys n’ Sleds, involves high performance athletes as well as chuckwagon drivers, many of whom are familiar with the situation and were touched by the Humboldt crash.

“We’re all very touched,” said chuckwagon driver Jordie Fike. “A lot of us wagon drivers have played junior hockey and rode the bus and we’re right there on the bus with those boys and I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”

Many of those who took to the ice alongside Straschnitzki also know from first-hand experience how much of a challenge it can be to overcome a serious crash.

“I know what those young guys are going through and what they still have to go through,” said Bob Wilkie, who survived a crash in 1986. “It’s inspiring for a young man like that to have that much mental strength to overcome his whole life being turned upside down.”

As for the game itself, it was a victory for the green team, 5-4 with help from a goal and an assist by Straschnitzki.

He says he’s happy to have gotten back to the action.

“It was exhilarating. All the people that came out to support, just the environment and everyone who came out and played was just amazing.”

Straschnitzki says that he hopes others can learn from his story of overcoming challenges.

“Just because I don’t have my legs, just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road. Everyone has a chance to play and do something with their lives. It’s not over.”

The game supported STARS Air Ambulance and the StrazStrong Foundation.

(With files from Stephanie Wiebe)