Canadian Paralympian Tyler McGregor is urging students at Lambton Centennial to learn from every experience, even the tough ones.
The Forest native who has competed in three Paralympic Games visited the Enniskillen school Tuesday showing off some of his hardware and sharing his story with the students gathered for their first assembly since the COVID-19 pandemic began two years ago. And in sharing his story, McGregor showed the students that even the tough moments in life can teach important lessons.
McGregor grew up like many sitting on the floor at Centennial. A small town boy, he was skating as a toddler and enrolled in hockey by the time he was three. McGregor lived and breathed the sport.
“I dreamed of playing in the NHL,” he told the students.“I would spend so many hours, both in my garage and in the wintertime in the backyard rink, just pretending to be that, and wanting to someday represent Canada. And I practiced and I practiced and practiced and I continue to fall in love with hockey as a young kid.”
At 15, he was playing with the South Huron Perth Lakers and working hard to realize his dream. Then, he broke his leg. It spelled the end of his season and eventually lead to an eight month hospital stay.
As he recovered from the broken leg, a mass started to grow below his knee. When McGregor was ready to hit the ice again, it was the size of a tennis ball.
“In hockey, you wear shin pads and it was pretty difficult at that time just to be able to fit the shin pads around my legs, it had grown so much,” McGregor said.
Doctors diagnosed him with cancer similar to the type Terry Fox. As he geared up for a fight, the doctor delivered devastating news.
“I met with an orthopedic oncologist who specializes in bone cancer and he said, ‘Tyler, in order to save your life, we have to amputate your leg.’” In April 2010, doctors removed his leg above the knee. McGregor had eight months of chemotherapy – spent mostly in isolation from his friends.
The toughest part, he told the students, was coming to the realization it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake to walk again. “I had to relearn pretty much everything, had to relearn how to walk, which was far more difficult than I ever anticipated. I figured that I would just get a prosthetic leg and walk right out of the hospital and it certainly wasn’t like that.”
Eventually he figured it out. Then McGregor tried to skate. That didn’t go well. Soon, he found out about sledge hockey and joined a team. One year later, he became the youngest member of Team Canada’s para hockey team and was headed to South Korea where they won the World Championship.
Canada’s sledge hockey team is always among the best in the world, but McGregor said Olympic gold was elusive. He’s competed at the Paralympics three times and brought home a bronze and two silver medals, including one this year from Beijing.
McGregor told the students that while each time he was aiming for gold, he learned something from each Olympic experience. And he’s says he’s particularly proud of this year’s Silver medal.
“I’m so proud of our team for the discipline and the resilience of just dealing with the pandemic. And finding a way to continue to improve and to be prepared through some of the most challenging circumstances that we’ve seen in the past century.
“I think with each with each experience, regardless of the outcome, you have to accept that and you have to try and learn from that. And you have to take all the good things that have come from that.”
And McGregor urged the students to see how well they’ve done during the pandemic.
“I’m proud of you for how resilient you’ve been over the past few years, and I bet it feels so good to be back in school with all your friends. Enjoy the opportunity to be in school, to be social, McGregor said adding, “Take advantage of every opportunity to play sports to participate in the Terry Fox Run, do different school activities. Soak every single moment and as you move forward in life.”
And McGregor thanked Lambton Centennial students for their role in his recovery.
“Thanks to all the cancer research and awareness through things like the Terry Fox Run, that all of you do every single year, I’ve been fortunate enough to regain my health and to survive, and to continue to chase my dreams.
“So thank you, for your efforts in supporting the Terry Fox are in every single year because it has an enormous impact not only for people like myself, but people all around the world, and their families.”