Sask. athlete finds success in new sport after crash derails hockey career


Hockey players need to be able to quickly change direction on the ice. Kyrell Sopotyk had to do it in real life.

Sopotyk’s promising hockey career was derailed by a snowboarding crash when he was only 19 years old. 

Now the Saskatchewan athlete has a new sport. He competed in wheelchair racing for the province at the recent Canada Summer Games, earning a bronze medal in the 1,500 metres.

Sopotyk was laced up into a pair of skates for the first time when he was three years-old at the rink in his hometown, Aberdeen, Sask. He had his first hockey practice a year later.

Kyrell Sopotyk picked up 27 points in 43 games in what would be his last full season with the Kamloops Blazers. (Kamloops Blazers)

As a teenager he was picked up by the Prince Albert Mintos in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League. From there he moved on to Western Hockey League as a forward with the Kamloops Blazers. He was living his dream.

Then on Jan. 22, 2021, everything changed in an instant. 

The snowboarding accident fractured his T5 and T6 vertebrae, paralyzing Sopotyk from the chest down. His hockey career was over.

“It was obviously a heartbreaking moment,” said Sopotyk in an interview with Saskatoon Morning host Leisha Grebinski.

“I just kept a positive mindset the whole time, knowing that I couldn’t change it.”

Sopotyk said he turned his thoughts to a future that would still include sport.

While still in hospital recovering, he had his recreational therapist reach out to para-athletics coach Jen Wood.

Wood said that an athlete reaching out so quickly after an injury was unusual. Most people take some time off.

“He was eager to jump back in,” said Wood. “It was big for him to be able to do that. It was a big step.”

Sopotyk and his mother, Lori, met Wood and another coach at the Field House in Saskatoon for a tryout in October 2021. 

Getting into the racing wheelchair was a little challenging for Kyrell. Using it was not.

“They explained how it worked and they kind of ran beside him around the track,” said Lori. “They came around a second time and there were no coaches with him. It was just Ky going around the track.

“It was pretty amazing to see how fast he had just figured that out.”

Coach Jen Wood describes the first time Sopotyk used a racing wheelchair as ‘mind-blowing.’ They travelled together to the Canada Summer Games in Niagara just seven months later. (Submitted by Jen Wood)

Kyrell began training with the para-athletic team. Just like with hockey, he put everything he had into it. 

“He is a really hard worker. Athletics isn’t like a team sport, where you have teammates around. It’s very individual with your focus and your training,” said Wood.

“He always wants to learn more. He’ll ask a lot of questions. He’ll do some research himself. He really takes correction.”

His drive and curiosity paid off. This August, just 20 months after his hockey career came to an end, he donned a Team Saskatchewan jersey at the Canada Summer Games.

Sopotyk competed in three events. He placed fourth in the 400 metre men’s wheelchair and eighth in the 100 metre. 

His grit and determination earned him third place in a tough 1500 metre final.

Sopotyk says while he is still in touch with his hockey teammates, he has found another caring sports family within the para-athlete community. (Submitted by Kyrell Sopotyk)

“I wasn’t expecting guys to go out that hard, but I mean, I just wanted to stay up with the pack,” said Kyrell about the race. 

He was in fourth place, but made a move in the last 100 metres to get the bronze medal.

“My arms are burning at the end, but it was a good feeling crossing the finish line at the end, knowing I would be getting on the podium.”

His coach Wood admitted to yelling a lot during the race.

“Just watching him come around that last 100-metre mark and turning the jets on was pretty special,” said Wood. “It was amazing to see him believe in himself. He’s an incredible athlete who’s come a really, really long way in a short period of time.”

Sopotyk says will be focusing on para-athletics and wheelchair basketball for the near future. He is unsure if he will play sledge hockey. His injury limits his core function, which makes is difficult to balance. (Submitted by Kyrell Sopotyk)

The medal ceremony was meaningful for the whole Sopotyk family.

“It was very emotional. It was happy tears,” said Lori. “It’s amazing to see how he just could transition from such a tragic event to this.

“That’s the type of person Kyrell is. He just does his best, and he always wants to do better.”

The move into para-athletics was just half of Kyrell’s incredible transition. This August he will head to Thailand with Team Canada for the Under-23 World Wheelchair Basketball Championships. 

While the end of Kyrell’s hockey career was unexpected, his ability to pivot was not.

“You can talk about people setting examples and being an inspiration, but I think it’s just Kyrell. He’s a lifetime athlete and he loves competition,” said Wood. “I think he’s just embracing each day and he’s just living his best life.”

Listen to Kyrell’s conversation with Saskatoon Morning host Leisha Grebinski: 

Saskatoon Morning10:12The Canada Summer Games were a success for a pair of Saskatchewan athletes



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