The ice rink where Marc plays is friendly and loud; players bang their sticks on the gate when they walk on or off the ice, and every time a puck slams into the wall, the impact makes the boards shudder. It’s chilly, even in summer, and the smells of refrigerant and decades of sweat hang in the air. The players love it.
“I wouldn’t give up Monday nights for anything,” says David Strand, PhD, one of Marc’s teammates. “It’s not just playing hockey — it’s the camaraderie, it’s the fact that we know each other and we’ll see each other next week.”
Familiar as it is, stepping onto the ice is always an otherworldly moment, says Strand. Gliding smoothly on his skates, he becomes sharply attuned to his surroundings and fully present in his body. “You have to focus on the gestalt,” he says. “Where are the players going? Where does the flow of the game seem to be headed, and how do I fit into that?”
But make no mistake: This game is fast-paced and intense. “Everybody is crammed into a pretty small space,” Strand says. “You’re trying to maneuver around the opposing team while moving the puck with a stick that’s four or five feet long. It’s all happening quickly, and you have to be able to react in a split second.”
That night, their time was up, but it was a close game and the Zamboni driver let them play a little longer. As the seconds ticked down, the competition grew intense.
Marc and Strand lunged for the puck at the same instant, about seven feet from the wall. It took a split second for the blades of their skates to lock, and the momentum sent Marc headfirst into the unforgiving concrete that rings the rink. As Strand watched in horror, Marc hit the boards headfirst and dropped, limp, onto the ice.
“I knew to hold his head and neck steady,” says Strand, a vocational rehabilitation counselor at Harborview. Someone checked for a pulse. Someone else called 911.
Kneeling on the ice, stabilizing his friend’s helmeted head, Strand’s mind whirled. “All I could focus on was making sure that no more damage was done, and praying,” he says. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know if he’s going to walk his daughters down the aisle, I don’t know if he’s ever going to throw a baseball with his son again.’ All of these things are flooding through my head.”
In minutes, Marc was on his way to Harborview in an ambulance, sedated, intubated and wearing a cervical collar. No one knew whether he’d survive — or, if he did, what survival might look like.