Due to cerebral palsy, Xavier Sylvain cannot skate, but he lives his passion for ice hockey full-time as an assistant coach for the Corsaires de Pointe-Lévy, which represents the small Nordiques in the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament.
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Cerebral palsy is a chronic disorder that affects body movements and muscle coordination. This physical disability is not progressive but is irreversible.
“It has never stopped me from doing what I want,” he assures. I don't want this complication to stop me from doing what I love. We have some hypotheses such as a lack of air at birth or a minor concussion that could explain my condition, but we don't know the reason for sure.
Photo Didier Debusschere
The 23-year-old is about to complete his bachelor's degree in sports intervention at Laval University and would then like to pursue a master's degree. He has been working as a trainer for six years. This is his second season in the Corsaires physical education program. He started out with his father Jonathan in the bantam and bantam ranks.
“I come from a hockey family and developed my passion for the game through contact with players who became lifelong friends,” he said before the game against the New York Islanders. I never played ice hockey, but I tried to skate, but without success because I had problems with my balance.
Five surgeries at Shriners Hospital for Children
Sylvain was stationed at the Shriners Hospital for Children of Canada in Montreal until he was 21, and three years ago underwent a fifth operation that made his life easier. “You prepared me for life,” he says with a smile. They rebuilt my right leg by breaking my femur and tibia. I had developmental problems because of my approach.”
“Now that my growth is complete and with the operation, the problem is solved,” added the sports intervention student from Saint-Gilles de Lotbinière. Five years ago, 60 percent of the nerves in the spinal cord were severed during an operation. When I walked, I had stiffness and always had to point my toes upwards. I now have more mobility, freedom of movement and my joints have become more flexible.”
Sylvain greatly appreciates the renowned doctors at Shriners Hospital. “I am extremely grateful to the doctors who are among the best in the world and who optimized my body. The mobility of my arms and legs has improved significantly. If I have a problem, I go to the private sector, but my health is adequate and sufficient to live a good life and does not require any special care.
Given the great need, Shriners Hospital for Children stops providing care at age 21, which is the international majority.
A brilliant idea
This season, Sylvain had an idea that completely changed the dynamic among his players. “I don’t know why, I hadn’t thought about it before,” he emphasizes. I attached crampons to my boots to make moving around easier. Because I'm closer to the boys, my involvement changes. I used to stay on the bench and yell at the kids when I wanted to give them advice. It changes everything and the players like it.”
Sylvain is no different from coaches his age. “It is clear that I want to develop further in coaching. I do it year by year and don't look too far into the future, but it's definitely my goal. Next year at master’s level I would like to continue with the Corsairs.”
How do the players react to their coach's condition? “The million dollar question,” he answers with a smile. I quickly earned the respect of young people. There has never been a young person who didn't respect me or questioned how they had a disabled coach. At the beginning there is a taboo, but I answer them if they have questions. My background and character can be transferred anywhere in life.”
Photo Didier Debusschere
Trailing 1-0 after two periods, the diminutive Nordiques scored two goals in the final period to escape with a 2-1 victory in their first game on Sunday. Your journey will therefore continue at the Videotron Center.