The stories of the Sudbury Minor Hockey Association and Andrew Olivier will forever be interlinked – that is a given.
The fact is that the hockey injury that the youngest of four children from the lifelong Sudbury family sustained on January 4th (1994), one day shy of his 15th birthday, occurred while Olivier was playing AAA hockey for the SMHA at Cambrian Arena.
Hard to believe that almost three decades have passed since the time of an unfortunate accident, one that involved absolutely no contact with an opposing player, a moment in time which has since seen the 43 year old graduate of Laurentian University (Olivier possesses both an undergraduate degree in Commerce and a masters in Business Administration) find a way to overcome constantly and enjoy a very good life – in his own words.
“We were on the penalty kill and I ripped down the ice and lost my footing by the goal line,” said Olivier, dislocating the C4 and C5 vertebrae in the process. “The damage was done to my spinal cord and once that happens, neurologically, it doesn’t come back.”
Earlier this year, the man whose sweater and number have adorned the walls of the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex since 1995 was granted a Lifetime Honourary membership into the SMHA, a process led by long-time friend and board member Joel St Marseille, past-president Angela Vendette and the current board of the local hockey association.
It’s a testament to the attitude that Olivier carries into each and every day, the ability to find something positive in every single segment of the story of his life.
“There is a silver lining with everything,” said the 43 year-old financial professional, licensed mortgage broker, part-time teacher at Cambrian College and volunteer on more boards than you can shake a stick at – and a man who has been a quadriplegic since his mid-teens. “I am healthy now, didn’t really skip a beat, went to school and all of those things.”
Even as he discusses the challenges of early rehabilitation, nine months or so spent at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute Lyndhurst Centre, Olivier does so with his ever-present sense of humour at hand. “I was in a group of some really interesting people, obviously older than I was, but who really made it feel welcoming,” he said.
“I had an amazing rehab doctor, very caring. Looking back at those times, we had a lot of fun. When the snow would come, we would out the tester chairs and whip around in the snow. I did things you might normally do as a teenager, just involving what I had to work with at the time.”
This is more than just life giving you lemons and finding a way to make lemonade. Speaking analogously, Olivier has created the best damn lemonade the world has ever seen.
Somehow, he has found a way to maintain a sense of appreciation for the positives that have come his way, constantly foregoing the easier pathway to the opposite side of that equation.
His is an attitude that he has carried with him pretty much his entire life.
“When I came home (from rehab in Toronto), everyone always helped me,” said Olivier. “I really wanted to get to the point where I could give back.”
Between school and family, the super friendly northern gentleman would have plenty to draw upon in helping others. “Having grown up with my parents as business owners, you tend to grow up with a business sense. I started consulting, working with new businesses, helping them get up and running.”
The transition to academia at the college level was all too natural.
“I was very attracted to the idea of getting knowledge to kids earlier,” said Olivier.
Even through his more public foray, albeit brief, into the political landscape, the lens through which he views life is filtered with optimism. “It was an awesome experience and I met some really great people – and it helped me put the word out in the community that I was there to help,” he said.
It kick-started the whole process which circled back to Sudbury Minor Hockey, taking in games involving his nephew and niece in recent years, with St Marseille at his side. Hockey conversations in the rink flowed from game situations to the larger issues at hand, especially those dealing with houseleague hockey.
“With Andrew, it’s always a matter of moving forward,” said St Marseille. “He and I talked about running for the board (of SMHA), but we discovered that because he wasn’t a member of the SMHA (no kids involved, wasn’t currently coaching or on a team staff, etc...), he could not run for the board.”
“It struck me that it’s kind of crazy that he is not a member of Sudbury Minor Hockey. His life was altered playing hockey with the SMHA.”
And though he has lived a life of experiences that the overwhelming majority of us can never fully appreciate, Olivier now hopes to complete the circle, sharing his wisdom and positivity to the benefit of yet another Sudbury organization.