Last April, Owen lined up at a track meet to compete in the 1,500 metre race. A strong long distance runner, he felt good about his chances when the starter’s pistol fired.
His confidence was justified having placed fourth. But it’s what happened after he crossed the finish line that changed his life.
Within a couple of hours of breaking the tape, the unthinkable happened. Owen had a stroke.
Suddenly, he went from being a track athlete who also played competitive hockey to not being able to move.
“I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t keep my body up, I could barely keep my neck up,” said the 15-year-old.
He spent four months at Holland Bloorview last summer bringing both his body and his mind back to life. He took part in recreation therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and cognitive therapy.
“I had to learn to walk again,” said Owen. “I also had to learn how to swallow food because my brain forgot how to do that. I had to learn how to use tone in my voice again.”
Everything started coming back – his strength, flexibility and mobility. So did his vocabulary. “It’s really cool how the brain can rewire,” he said.
He was also part of a teen support group that gave him a chance to work through his emotions by sharing his experience with others.
“The support group helped me by showing me that I wasn’t alone with my injury, and by teaching me how to advocate for myself,” he said.
One of the group’s activities was creating a mask that represented each person’s brain injury – an artistic way to capture the highs and lows of the brain recovery journey.
“My mom framed my mask and hung it on our wall at home,” said Owen.
Fast forward to today, and Owen is back at school full-time and getting active once again by hitting the ice, but in a different way.
He’s joined his high school curling team, and also has dreams of one day snowboarding in the Paralympic Games.