Girls Hockey: Fairbanks can relateA neck injury derailed Fairbanks' sophomore season with the Wingers.
By: Nick Gerhardt, The Republican Eagle
The recent hockey-related injuries to Minnesota high school hockey players Jenna Privette and Jack Jablonski have resonated with Cori Fairbanks.
Fairbanks, a senior forward on the Red Wing girls hockey team, had a similar experience two seasons ago on the ice.
In a game against Farmington Nov. 24, 2009, at Prairie Island Arena in Red Wing, Fairbanks was tripped and fell head first into the boards. The impact broke the C7 and C6 vertebrae in her neck and also some of her ribs.
“Seeing that injury was really scary,” senior teammate Elle Anderson said. “I was on the ice bawling because she was just lying there. Her injury really scared all of us.”
The recent injuries have made her experience fresh in her mind and reminded her how close she came to paralysis.
“My doctor reminded me I was one bad trainer away from being a quadriplegic,” Fairbanks said.
When Fairbanks learned of Jablonski’s injury, it brought back the emotions she felt after her injury. Jablonski, a Benilde-St. Margaret’s sophomore severed his spinal cord Dec. 30 when he was checked from behind in a game against Wayzata.
Privette was injured Jan. 6 in game against St. Croix Lutheran. Privette hasn’t been able to move her legs or feet, according to the Star Tribune, but had pain and tingling in her arms.
“I feel really bad for him,” Fairbanks said. “It almost made me sick to my stomach that that could have happened to me. It made me feel really blessed and lucky. It’s sad to hear about that.”
Fairbanks and others wore white to school last Thursday in honor of Jablonski. She and her teammates also have honored him by placing his nickname on the blades of their sticks. Fairbanks posted on Jablonski’s Caringbridge website following his injury and shared her story.
“I just told him when I was his age I went through something similar and now I’m back and playing hockey game after two years of thinking I’d never be able to do it again,” she said.
Fairbanks remains fortunate and especially fortunate that trainers at the game when she suffered her injury followed protocol closely.
Red Wing High School has trainers at every athletic event and on the night of Fairbank’s injury Amanda Kingzette and Paul Irwin were at the game and the first to attend to her.
Kingzette and Irwin kept Fairbanks on the ice and did move her.
Any kind of movement of Fairbanks risked further damage to her spinal cord and could have been the difference between retuning to the ice on skates or in a wheelchair.
“Our trainers were excellent as far as stabilizing Cori,” said Jon Fairbanks, Cori’s father. “The doctors in Rochester said the injuries will be compounded if they’re not handled properly. Every time I see Amanda now I go up and hug her.”
The recent injuries to hockey players has served as a reminder of having athletic trainers on site for contests.
“You hate for that to happen to a kid,” Kingzette said. “It reiterates the importance of having that medical staff there. I just feel lucky with the situation we had had such a positive out come.”
Fairbanks was placed on a stretcher and taken to the local hospital before being taken to Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Fairbanks had feeling in her legs, but had numbness and tingling in her arms. Fairbanks and her family opted to have surgery on her neck rather than have her wear a halo to recover from the injury.
Fairbanks spent a week in the hospital where family, friends and teammates came to see her daily. Jackie Friedrich, a captain of the girls hockey team, made Fairbanks a handmade card nearly daily. The Farmington player who tripped Fairbanks even sent flowers.
Once she returned home teammates visited her every day before practice.
Fairbanks never really left the hockey team despite not being on the ice that season, but she remained ambivalent about returning to the ice.
“She was scared about it,” Jon Fairbanks said. “She was scared to come back because of the hit.”
Friedrich and others helped play a role in getting Cori to return to the game. At Thanksgiving in 2010 Friedrich returned home from college and took Cori skating. That experience started to ignite a desire to return to hockey.
Still Cori had reservations about returning to the sport she’s played since she was 3 years old. Fairbanks sat out the first three games of the season and played with the junior varsity team before returning to the varsity team against Holy Angels Dec. 7.
The Wingers responded with better play once Fairbanks returned. After starting the season 2-4 they went 4-1-1 in her first six games back.
“Her coming back last year was one of the main reasons we did so well,” Haley said. “She added a whole new layer of depth to the team.”
Fairbanks, a captain on this year’s team, meets with the referees before every game and even though no checking is allowed in girls hockey, the refs still remind the players to be careful.
Balancing aggressiveness and not getting too passive has put players into a difficult position at times since the injuries have put the sport under a microscope.
“I’m still physical but I’m also careful of how I take a girl into the board so I don’t get a checking from behind penalty,” Anderson said.
Trying to curb checking from behind and other dangerous plays in hockey doesn’t have an easy solution.
“I don’t think there’s really anything we could do on the girls side,” Haley said. “The only thing you could do is, and we already do it, is create a heavier penalty for checking from behind.”
When Fairbanks reflects now on spending time in the hospital recovering from the injury she doesn’t dwell on the negative.
“When I think about it I don’t think about the bad things, I think about all the people there and the support,” she said.