Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

Injured Pioneer Martin, ‘lucky to be here, happy to be here’

For University of Denver hockey standout Jesse Martin, the biggest difference in his life may have been made by a tiny sliver of bone.

Martin, 22, was looking to get the puck out of his own zone in the second period of an Oct. 30 game at rival North Dakota when the puck started to come off his stick. He tried to corral it, looked down, and was slammed by onrushing North Dakota forward Brad Malone.

On Nov. 16, less than three weeks after the collision, Martin spoke with reporters. Wearing a gray sweatshirt over a chest harness supporting a metal halo brace to hold his neck in place, Martin walked into a conference room at Denver’s Craig Hospital. He sat, flanked by his father, Terry, and Coach George Gwozdecky, and described the hit.

“I just lost [the puck] a little bit and then it ended up kind of sliding to the slot,” Martin recalled. “You know as a center the last thing you want to do is give that opportunity up so I kind of reached for it, and left myself in a very vulnerable position, and I didn’t see Malone coming at all.

“All of a sudden I’m on the ground, on the ice, and I’m in this position that is like, it’s one you would never find yourself in, like your arm is bent, kind of in a weird way, and that surprised me that I’m still in that position and why am I not moving out of this position? So I thought maybe I was winded. I ended up realizing that I wasn’t winded and I started to get a little bit concerned that I can’t move my arms, and I tried to move my legs to get up and that didn’t happen.”

Martin had suffered three fractures to the C-2 vertebra in his neck. Doctors told him most people who suffer that kind of injury in a high-speed accident die. Of those who don’t die, most are paralyzed. Of those who aren’t fully paralyzed, many never fully recover.

For Martin, the saving grace may have been a tiny sliver of bone.

“The way they described it is like a cigar cutter, your two vertebrae, and the only reason they didn’t just go across (and sever the spine) is because when it fractured, a chip of the vertebrae came down and was stuck in the vertebra and didn’t allow it to go across,” Martin said. “That would be the reason I didn’t end up in another situation.”

Jesse Martin talks with reporters along with Coach George Gwozdecky, left, and his father, Terry, right.

Martin said he asked a doctor if his luck was like winning the Powerball lottery drawing. The doctor told him no, it was like hitting the Powerball twice.

“The Powerball, you win that once, it’s insurmountable,” Martin said. “For [the doctor] to say it’s like winning it twice, you can’t even come to grips with how lucky you are … It’s overwhelming.”

Martin credited the medical teams that treated him in Grand Forks, N.D., Minneapolis and now in Denver for their care and skill. And he said the support of family, friends, teammates and fans was instrumental in keeping his spirits up.

Looking ahead, Martin says he plans to head back to his home in Edmonton, Alberta, to continue his physical training. Then he plans to come back to DU for the winter quarter, continue his studies and support the Pioneers.

His father said the past weeks have been difficult on the family, but each day is better.

“I was doing interviews before, speaking on behalf of Jesse. Now, we actually have Jesse speaking for himself,” Terry Martin said. “We couldn’t be more grateful.”


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