Boston Bruins fuel Eagle River hockey fan's rehab
Justin Garrels love bears and hockey. When he started playing the sport at age 10, he put the two together by choosing to cheer for the Boston Bruins.
“It kind of just fell into place for me. I am from Alaska. I love bears -- that's my favorite animal, period. Before hockey I loved bears, so it worked out. Bruins, Boston, Bears, perfect," Garrels said. His friends wondered why he didn't pick a team on the west coast, closer to home, but Garrel wanted to root for bears.
That was 30 years ago. Garrels didn’t know then that the team he chose would have such an impact on his life decades later.
Last September Justin was involved in a wreck on the Glenn Highway. Police say he was speeding on his 2006 Yamaha motorcycle when he rear-ended a 2002 Subaru. Garrels was ejected and went to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.
Justin’s wife Shana Garrels said the doctors counted more than 30 broken bones. “One of them being an open book fracture to the pelvis which means it split open. He bruised both of his lungs, his kidneys were failing, liver was failing."
The outlook for Justin's recovery was grim.
"They didn't think he'd wake up, they didn't think he would talk, they didn't think he would walk," Shana said.
Around Christmas Justin was still in a hospital bed; by March he had progressed to a wheelchair. Now, he just uses a cane.
The Boston Bruins served as motivation for Justin to improve. He says that Shana would talk to him during the early stages of his coma and give him updates on the games.
When Justin came out of his coma, his motivation grew.
The Garrels’ anniversary is around the time of the Stanley Cup Final and they had always said that if the Bruins made it, they would go to a game. During his recovery, Justin’s wife kept reminding him of their plans.
The Bruins did advance and Shana bought tickets to Game 4 in St. Louis. She also emailed the Bruins about Justin's story.
"I said you know what, they need to know how inspirational they were to him and need to know his story. I just wanted to say thank you," Shana said.
The Bruins responded and invited the Garrelses to a team practice. That wasn't the only surprise the team had in store for the couple; Justin and Shana met the players in the locker room.
"That's when Tuukka walked out and just blew me away," Justin said. "I was like oh my gosh, you're Tuukka Rask."
Justin says he met all of his heroes – a dream come true.
Some of the players told Justin he was an inspiration to them.
Justin is continuing to work on his recovery. He’s focusing on his mobility, speech and regaining strength in his arms. His next goal is to drive again and his next big adventure is to catch a Bruins game in Boston at the Boston Garden.
The family has a GoFundMe account.
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